White Students Not Allowed at Pennsylvania School District’s Drone Camp

White Students Not Allowed at Pennsylvania School District’s Drone Camp


An Evo II drone flies in the Autel booth at the 2020 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Nev., January 8, 2020. (Steve Marcus/Reuters)

“This is wrong on so many levels,” one parent wrote on Facebook.

A middle school in Pennsylvania is receiving pushback from some parents for hosting a drone-flying camp over the weekend that was not open to white students.

During morning announcements at Upper Merion Area Middle School on November 1, a school staff member said she had “an exciting announcement,” but asked everyone to first watch a short video about drones. The video included footage of students flying drones, and snippets of TV news reports where anchors noted that “drones are in high demand,” and “if you want to go into drones, you’re going to need those (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) skills.”

After the video, the staff member announced a drone flight camp at the middle school on Saturday, according to a recording of the announcement a parent posted on Facebook. The camp was free, but there were only 24 seats available, the staff member announced. Seats would be filled on a first-come, first-served basis, she said.

But there was another catch.

“Here’s the thing, it is a black-student-union-sponsored event,” the staff member said, adding that “you must be black, African American, a person of color in order to participate.”

 

Parents complained online that the school was discriminating against students based on the color of their skin, writing, “This is wrong on so many levels,” and “Can you just imagine if they said only whites … they would be burning down the school buildings!”

When reached on the phone Monday by National Review, the school’s principal, Adam Slavin, declined to comment and directed questions to the superintendent.

Superintendent John Toleno defended the drone camp in an email, calling it “part of our ongoing efforts over the past 8 years to give opportunities to groups who are underrepresented in STEM fields with a primary focus on students of Color and students who identify as female.” He noted that since 2015, the district has participated in a STEM event at Penn State Brandywine that is open only to females. The district received a grant for the newest program about two years ago from a public educational agency “that aligned with our DEI initiatives and a focus on African American students being the population we wanted to offer this opportunity to based on being underrepresented in STEM fields,” Toleno wrote.

It’s unclear if the drone program was open to all students who identify as “persons of color,” including students of Hispanic, Asian, or Middle-Eastern descent, or if it was only open to African American students. Toleno did not respond to an emailed question about that.

He did note that “if we didn’t get to our 24-student limit with African American students as stipulated in the grant we wrote and were awarded, we would have absolutely opened this up to our entire middle school student population to fill the 24 student seats.”

Toleno did not say how many students participated in the camp.

While Saturday’s camp was only open to racial minorities, the Upper Merion Area Middle School does have a full drone program that every eighth grader takes part in, according to the district.

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Ryan Mills is a media reporter at National Review. He previously worked for 14 years as a breaking news reporter, investigative reporter, and editor at newspapers in Florida. Originally from Minnesota, Ryan lives in the Fort Myers area with his wife and two sons.

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