Truitt letter rebuts Governor’s School lawsuit claims

State Superintendent Catherine Truitt

RALEIGH — A letter sent to members of the General Assembly by Republican state Superintendent Catherine Truitt rebuts many of the claims made by a teacher at the N.C. Governor’s School program who was fired in 2021.

The Governor’s School is a summer residential program lasting four weeks for “gifted and talented high school students, integrating academic disciplines, the arts, and unique courses on each of two campuses.” Its operations are overseen by officials with the N.C. Department of Public Instruction, N.C. Governor’s School Coordinator Rodney Allen, and Director Office of Advanced Learning and Gifted Education Sneha Shah-Coltrane.

According to the lawsuit, which was filed in Wake County by the Alliance Defending Freedom on behalf of English professor Dr. David Phillips, the firing came after he spoke out about “the harms of the racially divisive ideology embraced by the school.”

The case summary says Phillips had spoken out against the school’s “increasing adoption of critical theory, an ideology that views everyone and everything through the lens of characteristics like race, sex, and religion, labeling people as perpetual oppressors or victims based on group membership alone.”

Phillips had taught at the Governor’s School for eight years, as well as teaching English at Wake Tech and Guilford Community Colleges. In the lawsuit, Phillips also asserts there was “no appeal or other recourse” offered following his firing.

Truitt writes in the letter dated Dec. 28, 2022 that she read media reports of the story and took time to gather information.

“Like all of you, this story gave me great pause and concern. This was the first time I had ever heard about this situation because a) I very rarely get involved with HR matters as state superintendent, particularly for employees hired for limited periods of time; and b) the teacher in question had never reached out to me with a complaint,” Truitt wrote.

She says most, if not all of the Critical Race Theory claims Phillips alleges took place from 2013 to 2021, before she made several changes that took effect in 2022.

Truitt adds that the school is typically planned a year ahead of time and the 2021 session planning took place before she was sworn in to office. She says her immediate attention was on the problems at hand dealing with COVID-related issues.

The superintendent responded to the media attention over the story and allegations she directed the inclusion of any questionable materials.

“What I find most remarkable about this situation is that I have been vehemently against the teaching of topics characterized by CRT in our classrooms. Why a person claiming to have been terminated because he took on these topics would not reach out directly to the elected conservative state superintendent who has also taken on this fight (and whose agency oversees Governor’s School) is confusing,” Truitt writes.

“But it is clear to me now, after reading this former temporary employee’s file, that his own truth is different from reality. It is very clear from the HR files, previously dismissed EEO case, multiple affidavits, and other pertinent information that this individual was dismissed from their temporary, time-limited position for their conduct, not their content, inside the classroom.”

She says that she supports all types of thoughts and perspectives inside the sessions and that instructors sit in various places along the political spectrum.

“Nobody would be let go from their position if they were genuinely providing a learning environment that was engaging and open. That is not what this former temporary employee did,” Truitt says in the letter.

In response to the story and subsequent attention, she closes saying the Department of Public Instruction will draft an answer to the complaint and provide more relevant details.

Truitt is not named as a defendant in the suit.

“I want to assure you that the accusations of curriculum decisions prior to my administration have been addressed. It’s not possible for me to verify what did or did not happen under a previous State Superintendent’s watch, but wokeness and inappropriate materials for our students should never enter the classroom,” Truitt writes, also saying she is proud of the work done at DPI to clean up multiple divisions that lacked oversight by previous leadership.

Read Truitt’s full letter here.

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Matt Mercer is the editor in chief of North State Journal and can be reached at [email protected]