Parents at Academy Charter School (ACS) in Castle Rock, Colorado are outraged that “Challenge” programs presented at the school, during which 5th– and 6th-graders were required to share intense personal feelings and information about themselves and their families with their classmates, were conducted without parental consent.
Brandi Butticaz, whose 6th grade daughter attends ACS, told Breitbart News that she has been asking school officials for information about the classes which she states are actually Challenge Day activities that are part of a program for 7th-12th graders that urges students to reveal personal feelings about issues such as intolerance, racism, sexism, bullying, violence, and homophobia in a large-group setting during one school day.
Butticaz said she learned an “empathy” class given last spring when her daughter was in 5th grade was very much like a Challenge Day activity, though parents were not asked to give consent for their children to participate in it.
According to Butticaz, her daughter participated in a “Cross the Line” activity that is demonstrated in videos on the Challenge Day website. She notes adult leaders asked children to “Cross the Line” marked on the floor of the activity room if:
- You have/had drug or alcohol abuse in your family.
- You have been discriminated against because of your skin color.
- You have/had a family member in a life or death situation.
- You have experienced death in the last year.
- You have been called a “bad kid”.
- You have ever attempted to run away.
- You have ever thought negatively about yourself.
- You have ever isolated yourself.
- You once considered someone a friend who turned out to be an enemy.
- You have ever been made fun of by someone you trusted.
- You have ever been bullied.
- You find it offensive if someone says you do something “like a girl”.
- You are under the age of 18.
Other students were urged to provide “empathy” and caring responses to students who “crossed the line” and admitted they experienced these issues.
“Following this class, children were picked up from school emotionally distraught and visibly upset after what they had experienced,” Butticaz said. “Children told parents, ‘It was the worst day of school ever,’ and ‘I don’t want to go back to school.’”
In email documents sent to Breitbart News, another parent wrote to ACS counselor Angela Krautz McWilliams:
It is not fair to use sadness as a tool to teach empathy to children and I did not know “empathy” is now part of academic curriculum. I am alarmed that you felt it was acceptable to ask such private and sensitive things of the children with no parent approval or involvement…I think pulling those emotions out of children in a public setting is not your place and can make children feel embarrassed and vulnerable around their classmates. This kind of “exercise” is a parents job and to be done in a safe private comfortable environment.
A document sent to Breitbart News shows the ACS counselor’s email sent to parents on the day of the “empathy” exercise:
I came into Mrs. Kelly’s class today to have the kids participate in an empathy exercise. It was great to see the kids come together as a class and show each other care and concern, as well as empathy. Some students were moved by their emotions in this. Please ask your kiddo to share with you…
In September, Butticaz asked McWilliams to provide her with a list of the specific vendors she used in these guidance classes, and whether data was being “shared, collected, or stored” from student involvement in the programs.
“I attended our local school district’s board meeting recently, hoping for some kind of assistance,” Butticaz said. “I got very little, only lip service from the district attorney saying he was communicating with parents, trying to set up a meeting. But, this has been ongoing for weeks.”
“I also have tried submitting a Colorado Open Records Request (CORA) where the school tried overcharging me for fulfilling the CORA,” Butticaz continued.
“Parents are afraid to comment publicly,” she added. “When I made public comment last week, the school district is taking the ‘there isn’t anything we can do because they are a charter school’ stance.”
ACS held a day for 7th and 8th-graders identified as Challenge Day on January 14.
An email was forwarded to Breitbart News with the following message from school counselor McWilliams on January 5 regarding the Challenge Day:
Middle School Parents,
Your 7th and 8th grade students have been selected to represent ACS at our upcoming Challenge Day Program on January 14th. Challenge Day is a transformational day of fun, leadership and power that can change the way people view one another forever.
The goal of Challenge Day is to help stop the teasing, violence and alienation that is so deeply a part of the school experience for millions of young people every day. Through a variety of games, trust building activities and presentations, students will be given a unique opportunity to see themselves and the people around them through a new set of eyes.
For more information on the program, please see the attached documents and visit the program website at www.challengeday.org
McWilliams enclosed a permission form that tells parents participation is “voluntary,” and that “Challenge Day and the sponsoring school/organization, its officers, employees or agents assume no liability either directly or indirectly for injury or accident resulting from or in any way connected with this event.”
In an accompanying letter to parents, the “Challenge Day Staff” write:
Please note that while our program focuses primarily on global and community issues and concerns, individual students can and often do share personal difficulties and experiences with the group. The process of sharing is often both empowering and emotional. For this reason, it is important that your child/ward be aware that while confidentiality is one of the primary norms for program participation, we can never guarantee confidentiality on a large group level following the day…
Challenge Day is a nonprofit, founded by husband and wife Rich Dutra-St. John and Yvonne St. John-Dutra, that provides 6 ½ –hour programs to students in grades 7-12. According to the letter sent to parents, “Challenge Days successfully address the issues of violence, teasing, social oppression, racism, harassment, conflict management, suicide, peer pressure, alcohol and drugs.”
ACS Dean Yvette Brown and school counselor Angela McWilliams did not respond to Breitbart News’ telephone and email requests for comment.