Fox News used ‘wrong and grossly edited’ audio to target SC schools, nonprofit CEO says Columbia News

LEXINGTON — A Fox News story that took a South Carolina school district to task for allegedly promoting “critical race theory” was based on manipulated audio, according to the head of EL Education, a nonprofit contractor whose employee appeared in the story.

“We are confident that the audio was edited and edited to misrepresent the speaker’s actual comments and give a false impression of EL Education’s curriculum,” said Scott Hartl, CEO of EL Education, Oct. 31.

“A simple set of answers to commonly asked questions has been deliberately twisted into a false and crudely edited narrative that blends EL Education’s pedagogy with controversial and political issues.”

Lawmakers at the South Carolina Freedom Caucus said they received the audio recording from an “anonymous whistleblower” whose identity they declined to reveal. They have denied any involvement in the production or editing of the clip. The right-wing Caucus and Fox News both released the audio on October 25.

The recording is said to be by Tamika Sullivan, a professional development specialist at EL Education who has ties to Lexington County School District One mentioned in the clip. Neither the District nor EL Education have confirmed that the voice is Sullivan’s, but they have not denied it either.

The caucus and Fox News claimed that the district’s audio shows attempted to “evade state laws” with a curriculum based on critical race theory. Fox News has not responded to questions from The Post and Courier about the alleged change in tone.

New York-based EL Education partnered with the state’s sixth-largest school district for leadership development and instructional coaching in 2013 and has since played a role at six schools in the district, including the cities of Lexington, Gilbert and Pelion.

In the audio clip, the announcer, who appears to be Sullivan, mentions her organization’s relationship with the Lexington One neighborhood and “the tenants of critical race theory” in what appears to be the same conversation.

In the audio recording, she can be heard saying that EL Education’s curriculum is written to “include culturally relevant lessons.” The speaker said they could teach “counter-narratives,” which they explained as narratives from the perspective of someone whose experience is different from another narrative, using the US Constitution and the experience of a person of color as an example.

Together with the academic term “culturally relevant pedagogy” and the question of how parts of the identity could be “privileged”, this could “deter” the speaker, says the speaker.

An Oct. 25 Fox News article quoted the speaker as saying, “Bringing culture into the classroom and honoring and respecting the tenets of critical race theory.”

But the editing task of the audio contrasts with the written version of the article’s citation, which left out words that were hidden from the audio without showing that anything had been skipped.

In the audio, the speaker is heard saying the words, “Bringing the students’ cultures into the classroom and honoring and respecting them…” before the audio fades out. The audio fades in again: “…the tenets of critical race theory are this, social construction – race is a social construction, race is endemic.” What came between these two sections, or if they even deal with the same general theme, is unclear.

political reaction

State Representative RJ May, R-Lexington, a member of the South Carolina Freedom Caucus, said after hearing the audio clip that he was convinced the schools were illegally indoctrinating students.

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“In the past two years, parents have been pressured by the educational institution,” May said in a statement from the group. Caucus Deputy Chairman May, known for his uncompromising conservatism, went on to say the recording shows that schools “welcome organizations that intentionally break the law.”

May called for legislative action in response to the tip, including a blanket ban on critical race theory. He said Oct. 27 that he believes the audio and anti-racism rhetoric on EL Education’s website is all he needs to hear and see.

The state representative for Lexington District 88 said he receives emails and phone calls at least once a week from parents complaining about students being racially segregated in the classroom or being given homework that says “check your privileges,” or that this inherently less likely to be successful as a people of color.

May credited local teachers and families with helping Lexington One students thrive academically. He said EL Education was unrelated to the school district’s recent achievements, which include an award for Secondary Principal of the Year from the SC Association of School Administrators and a school named Palmetto’s Finest High School in 2019.

School district and contractors are fighting back

While EL Education works with Lexington One schools, including River Bluff High School, Gilbert Middle and High Schools, Meadow Glen Elementary and Middle Schools, and Lakeside Middle School, Megan Moore, spokeswoman for Lexington One, said the nonprofit group’s work on professional development and support for teachers is aimed at creating an environment in which students can improve their academic skills.

Moore noted that the person featured in the audio is not an employee of the school district.

“This individual’s comments were made outside of a professional setting and do not represent the views or educational practices of Lexington County School District One,” Moore said. “Lexington District One will continue to review this matter and is committed to ensuring that all Lexington District One schools comply with South Carolina standards and statutes.”

Scott Hartl, President and CEO of EL Education, said the audio actually came from an EL employee. But he said the circumstances involved an apparent ploy to obtain the audio, which was then edited to produce the politically sensational clip.

Hartl said a hotel employee who pretended to be interested in teaching recorded the audio during a conversation with an EL employee in the hotel lobby. Someone then stitched together pieces of the audio that found their way into the hands of Fox News.

Fox News has not responded to a request for comment on Hartl’s claims.

A spokesperson for EL Education also said that the nonprofit’s curriculum does not include critical race theory.

“Based on the science of reading and learning, EL Education’s curriculum is designed to help students from all backgrounds feel welcome in school and thrive academically by sharpening their thinking skills so they can form their own conclusions,” said the speaker.

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EL Education also works with schools in the state’s largest and second largest districts, Greenville and Charleston counties. In 2020, River Bluff High School received a “credential” from the nonprofit, which it issues to schools in its network for “excellent character development and academic achievement.”

The organization helped develop a program at River Bluff called Crew, which is a team-building program for teachers and a random grouping of students, regardless of background or grade level, to organically encourage study groups and mentorship.

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