Controversy surrounds suburban high school's civil rights seminar

FOX 32 NEWS - A civil rights seminar is setting off a firestorm of controversy at north suburban New Trier High School District 203.

The debate played out during a school board meeting Monday night.

Hundreds of parents, students and faculty turned out in response to controversy over an annual seminar day hosted by the high school. This year's event, being held next Tuesday, is called "Understanding Today's Struggle for Racial Civil Rights."

The school board said the civil rights seminar is already set and they cannot change the lineup, but some parents say the seminar is too political and they want more diverse speakers.

Students are expected to go to two keynote speeches that day. The two speakers are authors - Colson Whitehead, author of “The Underground Railroad” and Andrew Ayden, who wrote a graphic novel alongside U.S. Representative John Lewis on his civil rights history.

The "Parents of New Trier" group, made up of several hundred parents, said there isn't enough diversity and the seminar day is too politically progressive and left-wing. They want more conservative views presented as well.

During the seminar day, high school students also pick from numerous workshops after the keynote addresses, like "Disney and Racial Stereotypes" and "Tracing Food Inequality: Food Deserts in Chicago”.

Hundreds of people in support of the Seminar Day also attended the board meeting. Some held signs outside of the auditorium in favor of the civil rights topic.

The following is a statement from Dr. Linda Yonke, Superintendent, New Trier Township High School District 203:

"All-School Seminar Day at New Trier provides an opportunity for students and staff to study a topic together in-depth for one school day.  New Trier has been planning this year's Seminar Day on civil rights since last spring. We are proud of the work that our committee of 30 administrators, faculty, and students has done to prepare for this day devoted to critical thinking and discussion around an important topic. We are also thrilled to welcome two National Book Award-winning keynote speakers who have written about civil rights in our country. We respect that there are different views about how best to talk about issues concerning race, but we are confident that the keynote speeches, a common lesson led by faculty members, and attendance at two of the more than 100 workshop sessions offered will provide our students with a positive experience that examines issues from multiple perspectives."