Education Secretary Miguel Cardona worried about getting teachers behind new 'woke' curriculum in email

EXCLUSIVE: At his old job as the Connecticut education commissioner, Education Secretary Miguel Cardona wrote in a 2019 email that he wanted to take steps to ensure teachers were supportive of a new "woke" curriculum the state was implementing. 

Cardona made the comment as his department was tasked with creating a new high school course on "African-American, Black, Puerto Rican, and Latino studies," which will be optional for the upcoming school year but required starting in the fall of 2022. The email was obtained via a Freedom of Information Act request filed by Fox News.

A message was sent out on Oct. 31, 2019, inviting people to an informational meeting about working on an "Advisory Group" run out of the quasi-public State Education Resource Center (SERC). That group was tasked with formulating the curriculum. 

The next day, Cardona's chief of staff, Laura Stefon, said she believed the State Department of Education's social studies consultant should be involved in the SERC group, to which Cardona agreed. "We need to be involved," he said. 

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On Nov. 1, Cardona made a separate request that a specific teacher also be included in the SERC panel to create the curriculum.

In this Jan. 28, 2020, file photo, Connecticut State Commissioner of Education Miguel Cardona speaks with Berlin High School students while on a tour of the school. Cardona said he wanted the 2020 teacher of the year in Connecticut to help formulate its Black and Latino studies curriculum because "We need teachers behind this wave of our curriculum becoming more 'woke.'"<br>
​​(Devin Leith-Yessian/Berlin Citizen/Record-Journal via AP)

In this Jan. 28, 2020, file photo, Connecticut State Commissioner of Education Miguel Cardona speaks with Berlin High School students while on a tour of the school. Cardona said he wanted the 2020 teacher of the year in Connecticut to help formulate its Black and Latino studies curriculum because "We need teachers behind this wave of our curriculum becoming more 'woke.'"<br> ​​(Devin Leith-Yessian/Berlin Citizen/Record-Journal via AP) (AP)

"I want the new Teacher of the Year (2020) Meghan Hatch Geary on it also, for several reasons," Cardona wrote.

Among the reasons, he said, "We need teachers behind this wave of our curriculum becoming more 'woke.'"

Cardona also said that the teacher "studied Black and Latino studies for her Master's Program... Has created programming incorporating social justice, for race and gender inequalities... Her application included more references to the importance of Black leaders in History than anything I have read before... She volunteered teaching in Ghana and Ecuador... Understands curriculum reduces invisibility for students of color and creates global preparedness for all students."

"Sends the right message that we are asking the ToY to help us do better," Cardona concluded. 

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The teacher, Meghan Hatch-Geary, presents herself on her Twitter account as an "antiracist-focused educator." Her Twitter bio also includes the quote, "There is no such thing as an apolitical classroom." 

The state eventually fully approved the curriculum in December 2020.

"Identities matter, especially when 27 percent of our students identify as Hispanic or Latino and 13 percent identify as Black or African-American," Cardona said at the time, in a press release. "This curriculum acknowledges that by connecting the story of people of color in the U.S. to the larger story of American history. The fact is that more inclusive, culturally relevant content in classrooms leads to greater student engagement and better outcomes for all."

Ingrid Canady, executive director of SERC, meanwhile, said "SERC's mission has always been about access and opportunity, and our team is proud to have been part of this moment affirming our students' racial identity and ensuring it is at the forefront."

Miguel Cardona speaks after President-elect Joe Biden announced him as his nominee for Education Secretary at the Queen theater on Dec. 23, 2020, in Wilmington, Del. Cardona oversaw the creation of a Black and Latino studies curriculum in Connecticut while he was the education commissioner there. (Joshua Roberts/Getty Images)

Miguel Cardona speaks after President-elect Joe Biden announced him as his nominee for Education Secretary at the Queen theater on Dec. 23, 2020, in Wilmington, Del. Cardona oversaw the creation of a Black and Latino studies curriculum in Connecticut while he was the education commissioner there. (Joshua Roberts/Getty Images) (Getty Images)

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"Under the leadership of Secretary Cardona, the Department of Education remains committed to advancing educational equity and ensuring that we prioritize, replicate, and invest in what works for all students, not just some," a U.S. Department of Education spokesperson said in response to an inquiry from Fox News. The department declined to comment on the contents of the state curriculum. 

The DOE spokesperson also did not specifically address questions about whether Cardona aims to make curricula more "woke" nationwide or whether he was concerned teachers might not be "behind" a "woke" curriculum.

After publication, Hatch-Geary issued a statement on Twitter. She said that Cardona "CARED about what #teachers thought, wanted to ensure they’d be on board w/ this vital initiative & thus wisely advocated to put a qualified #teacher on a committee to write #curriculum that would directly impact teachers." She also said that she "enthusiastically" participated shaping the program and that educational leaders "should 'worry'" about what teachers think.

The new Connecticut curriculum comes as controversy swirls across the country around how racial and issues should be approached in schools, with many parents and even some teachers pushing back against "critical race theory" in classrooms. 

"We're told that we're living in a county that's suffering from systemic racism and I think that that whole notion has done nothing but damage our community and our school since they began pushing equity," Loudoun County, Va., advanced placement government teacher Monica Gill told Fox News this month.

She added that teachers were told to "disrupt and dismantle this systemic racism. And I can tell you, one thing that's for sure, it has been disruptive because there are parents who disagree with this ideology, there are teachers who disagree with it, there are students who disagree with it — and it is harmful."

Meanwhile, some school officials and teachers are attacking parents and teachers that disagree with similar programs.

Keaira Jennings, who leads Loudoun County Public Schools' Minority Student Achievement Advisory Committee (MSAAC), allegedly recently called for teachers to be dismissed if they criticize – even in private – equity training, The Daily Wire reported last month.

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"That simply cannot and should not be tolerated by anyone employed by LCPS!" Jennings wrote, according to the Daily Wire. "If our teachers and staff cannot be open and willing to learn how to be culturally competent then they do not need to be in the classrooms any longer as they will only hinder the process and most importantly cause irreparable harm to the vulnerable hearts and minds of our students."

The Connecticut curriculum itself asks students to understand "the construct of race and why and how it was developed," as well as three days each on "Systemic Racism" and the "Black Lives Matter Movement." The course also includes many other readings and topics, ranging from discussion of slavery to what "African American, Black, Latino(a), and Puerto Rican histories reveal about the United States, its foundation, and how power is structured today?"

Fox News' Sam Dorman and Bradford Betz contributed to this report.