In August 2020, the NAACP launched a new education program, the Education and Civil Rights Initiative, in the University of Kentucky’s Department of Educational Policy Studies and Evaluation to address “racial inequities.” In late September, the initiative’s executive director, Gregory Vincent, moderated an online meeting, “Critical Race Theory: Why It Matters and What it Teaches Us.”

That day, the University of Kentucky announced senior administrators would be going through their own “anti-racist training,” as part of a first step in changing its “culture as a community united against systemic racism,” led by Candice Hargons, an assistant professor and counseling psychologist “with a national reputation in the field of anti-racism training.” 

With the program well-entrenched now at the University of Kentucky, the Education and Civil Rights Initiative just needed to drum up something important: new business. 

Their officials got just that on the afternoon of Inauguration Day, Jan. 22, 2021.

That day, in San Francisco, Lowell High School students were asked to submit anonymous comments on race and “inequity” on a school platform, Padlet. It was an assignment with a hidden agenda, because the school, like many other high-achieving schools with test admissions, has been under fire for years for its smaller percentages of black students, while being a school with a mostly minority student demographic. According to school data, Lowell’s 2021-2022 student body was 71.8 percent minority — including 42.4 percent Asians, 15 percent multiracial, 12.5 percent Hispanic and 1.9 percent black — with 25 percent white and 3.2 percent from other races.

Instead of looking at the pipeline issues of school systems failing black students at younger ages, critics had increasingly gone after the schools’ test admissions, using the COVID-19 pandemic and the “equity” debate following George Floyd’s killing, as an opportunity to eliminate test admissions and move to lottery admissions 

Now, on Inauguration Day, the activists got just the anecdote they needed to push their agenda. The comments deteriorated into sophomoric exchanges.

Lowell Principal Dacotah Scott sent a video image to the Lowell community, stating: “The images and hateful words are part of historic acts of violence that have been committed time and again, and I will not tolerate it. This message is to whomever made these racist and anti-Semitic attacks on our community: I will pursue all means available to me to hold you accountable for your actions. Your words and actions have no place at Lowell.”

At a Lowell High School PTA meeting, a Lowell father asked if there would be an investigation into the incident. But without an investigation, the school board moved forward with a solution – and a consultant.

For a Feb. 2, 2021, school board meeting of the San Francisco Unified School District, an unlikely person –  San Francisco school board member Alison Collins –  coauthored Resolution No. 212-2A1, “In Response to Ongoing, Pervasive Systemic Racism at Lowell High School.” She was about to get into a lot of trouble for her own racist tweets and messages against Asian Americans.

In that February message, however, the school board announced it was initiating a “memorandum of understanding” with the Education and Civil Rights Initiative at the University of Kentucky College of Education in Lexington, Kentucky, “in collaboration” with the San Francisco NAACP, California NAACP, and National NAACP to “facilitate the creation of a Community Coalition to define and oversee an equity audit and resulting action plan to address the exclusion and ongoing toxic racist abuse that students of color, and specifically Black students, have experienced at Lowell High School since the school’s creation.”

Sure enough, on June 16, 2021, the San Francisco Unified School District signed a contract to pay the Education and Civil Rights Initiative $15,000 to conduct a “Lowell High School equity audit” for the 2021-2022 school year. 

The plan included three phrases: 

  1. Phase 1: “Establish An Action Committee, Distribute audit surveys, Hold Focus Groups to address admission issues at Lowell High School and racial bullying (particularly increase in incidents against Asian Americans).”
  2. Phase 2: “Using data from surveys & focus groups prepare action plan & recommendations. Conduct a policy review. Develop training plan recommendations to address growth areas identified in the equity audit and policy review.”
  3. Phase 3: “Develop a community-based peer review process to ensure the work progresses over time. Continued on-demand support and consultations.”

In April 2021, the NAACP’s Education and Civil Rights Initiative held a webinar on critical race theory and ethnic studies.

That spring, the Education and Civil Rights Initiative held its first national conference in early May 2021, with K-12 education on the agenda. The speakers included Adora Nweze, education committee chair at the NAACP.  The schedule had K-12 sessions, including “Implementing Anti-racist Education Across the Disciplines,” exploring “what antiracist teaching looks like in practice in K-12 educational settings.” The moderator was Sahara Alameh, an academic at the University of Kentucky.

The local Lowell High School “Community Coalition” had a Sept. 1, 2021, deadline to issue a report on its unclear results. But the NAACP’s new consulting operation, Education and Civil Rights, could report a victory in its launch. It had gotten in the door at one of the United States’ premier high schools.