AG Garland comes under scrutiny for ties to Zuckerberg-backed education consultancy amid critical battles over race theory
Attorney General Merrick Garland is under new scrutiny for his ties to a company that promotes the kind of content parents oppose in their ongoing battle with local school boards – a hot issue Garland recently had targeted for investigation at the national level.
“Merrick Garland has declared war on parents,” Asra Nomani of Parents Defending Education (PDE) tweeted Tuesday. “His daughter is married to the co-founder of @PanoramaEd which is criticized for its multi-million contracts with school boards. TO @DefendingEd, parents sent us advice. We sounded the alarm. Now Garland is trying to silence the parents. “
As she noted, The New York Times reported in 2018 that Garland’s daughter, Rebecca, married Panorama co-founder Xan Tanner. Panorama’s ties to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg have also sparked skepticism, as his company has come under fire for the way it uses data and impacts users’ psychological health.
The DOJ and Tanner did not immediately respond to Fox News requests for comment.
Garland announced Monday that he would coordinate the investigation into suspected threats and acts of violence against school boards across the United States.
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For months, parents fought what they describe as “waking” indoctrination in schools and allegedly tried to fuel it administratively. Nomani’s group is concerned that Panorama Education – the consultancy firm founded by Tanner – is using data collection as a pretext for school officials to defend controversial ideas about race, identity and sexuality.
PDE previously signed a $ 1.8 million contract with Panorama to conduct social and emotional learning (SEL) monitoring in Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS), resulting in student data. Earlier in September, that number was increased to over $ 2 million as part of a contract addition with Panorama.
Panorama’s contract was part of a larger $ 78.8 million investment in coronavirus relief that FCPS directed towards a “welcoming” and “culturally responsive” environment for students. His website explains that the funding is intended to “support equitable professional development for school teams and socio-emotional staff to work directly with departments and school teams.”
A more detailed breakdown of the FCPS plan showed that the majority ($ 46.2 million) was for “intervention special education teacher contracts”. But it also showed that $ 2.2 million went to “Equity PD for School Teams” and $ 140,115 to “Equity PD for Equity Leads” – both apparently referring to the professional development of staff and faculty.
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FCPS’s filter seemed to focus more generally on social behavior and emotional health, but also included content about race.
“Social and emotional learning” (SEL) and “culturally appropriate” training have become seemingly harmless buzzwords in education in Virginia, but critics worried that they served as vectors for leftist ideas about race and identity.
“Equity” programs have also been criticized for their resemblance to critical race theory and its associated ideas. On its website, Panorama promotes “strong words” describing equity as an integral part of SEL. “If you talk about socio-emotional learning but not equity, you are not talking about SEL” bed the quote from Dr Lorenzo Moore, who spoke at the Panorama virtual meeting in September 2020.
Concerns about student data and privacy
It’s unclear exactly how the data will be used, but various statements from the school district indicate that this could raise privacy concerns.
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For example, part of FCPS’s Request for Proposal (RFP) stated that “schools function as the de facto provider of mental health in communities across the United States. Therefore, it is essential that school staff are able to appropriately and proactively identify socio-emotional barriers to the ability of students to access the academic curriculum. According to FCPS, the data is primarily intended for “[s]school administrators, school psychologists, school social workers and school counselors.
Additional language in the request for a contract proposal identifies the potential entrepreneur as “school board officials” “for the purpose of gaining access to confidential FCPS student records”.
Nomani expressed particular concern about Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, whose company recently came under scrutiny for allegedly knowing but failing to act to prevent the damaging effects of its algorithms. Specifically, a so-called whistleblower claims that Facebook was aware of its potential impacts on mental health and human trafficking.
The Zuckerberg charitable foundation – dubbed the Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative – was listed in 2017 as one of several organizations that collectively donated $ 16 million to Panorama, which would use it for socio-emotional efforts. A Press release Read: “Panorama Education will use the funding to expand its tools that help school districts develop students’ social and emotional skills, promote family engagement with school, and increase college readiness.”
A spokesperson for FCPS told Fox News last week that “Panorama has signed a legally binding contract with FCPS which specifies how data will be collected, stored and used.”
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“The data will only be used for FCPS service purposes and for educational purposes only. In addition, Panorama complies with all applicable federal laws, such as the Education Rights Act and the Family Privacy (FERPA) and the Protection of Student Rights Amendment (PPRA), as well as state and local regulations regarding student data. ”
Facebook also faced criticism in 2012 when news surfaced that it was manipulating news feeds to observe whether “exposure to emotions leads people to change their own posting behaviors,” according to BBC.
“[I]It’s outrageous that Fairfax County public schools are collaborating with a for-profit company funded by Mark Zuckerberg, ”Nomani, whose son had previously attended FCPS school, told Fox News. “In 2012, Zuckerberg admitted to performing ’emotional manipulation’ studies on Facebook users without their consent or knowledge. His involvement today in surveys of student mental health is beyond pallor. Schools need to stop trying to manipulate students and instead focus on educating students. “
FCPS also offers the option for parents to opt out, but this too has raised suspicion.
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“The only data we share with Panorama for students who have chosen not to participate in the screening are the student’s name, student ID, school and grade level,” said the spokesperson for the FCPS.
“This allows Panorama to confirm that any students who have opted out of the filter are indeed removed from their distribution list and do not receive an email link to the filter during the admin window. This is basically a quality control mechanism. “