Illinois

School event near Chicago sparks civil rights, race debate

  • In this Feb. 22, 2017 photo, New Trier High School parent Betsy Hart, poses at a coffee shop in Evanston, Ill. The school is holding a daylong seminar on civil rights designed to help students in the largely white and affluent school see things from other perspectives on Feb. 28, 2017. Hart is among a small group of parents opposed to the school's seminar that they say doesn't include enough diverse perspectives. (AP Photo/Sophia Tareen)

    In this Feb. 22, 2017 photo, New Trier High School parent Betsy Hart, poses at a coffee shop in Evanston, Ill. The school is holding a daylong seminar on civil rights designed to help students in the largely white and affluent school see things from other perspectives on Feb. 28, 2017. Hart is among a small group of parents opposed to the school's seminar that they say doesn't include enough diverse perspectives. (AP Photo/Sophia Tareen)  (The Associated Press)

  • In this Feb. 22, 2017 photo, New Trier High School Superintendent Linda Yonke and Assistant Superintendent Tim Hayes, pose at the schools Northfield campus, in Northfield, Ill. The school is holding a daylong seminar on civil rights designed to help students in the largely white and affluent school see things from other perspectives on Feb. 28, 2017. Conservative groups and some parents have raised concerns about the tone being too liberal. (AP Photo/Sophia Tareen)

    In this Feb. 22, 2017 photo, New Trier High School Superintendent Linda Yonke and Assistant Superintendent Tim Hayes, pose at the schools Northfield campus, in Northfield, Ill. The school is holding a daylong seminar on civil rights designed to help students in the largely white and affluent school see things from other perspectives on Feb. 28, 2017. Conservative groups and some parents have raised concerns about the tone being too liberal. (AP Photo/Sophia Tareen)  (The Associated Press)

When a largely white public school nestled in Chicago's wealthiest suburbs planned a daylong civil rights seminar, it drew award-winning authors and crafted a college-caliber syllabus.

But New Trier High School has found itself stepping into the minefield of the national dialogue on race and civil rights.

Some parents and conservative groups have deemed the event "radical" and "divisive." Dueling petitions have circulated. Heated emails have piled up. Hundreds packed a school board meeting last week.

Most parents and students at the high-achieving school say they support the seminar. But the debate shows how complicated it is to teach civil rights at a time when much of the country struggles to discuss race.

Some educators worry their work will become more difficult after a polarizing presidential election that's fueled divisions.

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Follow Sophia Tareen on Twitter at https://twitter.com/sophiatareen .