Virginia activists target local work of Marblehead parent, DEI advocate

In an April 10 report on their website, conservative activists in the Virginia-based nonprofit organization Parents Defending Education targeted Marblehead parent, educator and diversity, equity and inclusion consultant Henry Turner, highlighting the $10,000 Turner was paid to lead several DEI workshops for Marblehead teachers, students and parents.

Superintendent John Buckey confirmed that Marblehead Public Schools paid Turner $10,000 for four different programs, the most recent in February 2022. The money came from a METCO grant, he said. Turner included a $1,000 “hometown discount,” according to the invoices.

“We’re fortunate to have grant funds available to engage his services to deepen our work in creating a sense of belonging among parents, students and educators across MPS,” Buckey said. “[Turner’s] work attends to one of the five focus areas outlined in our ‘Planning for Success’ district strategic plan.”

Turner’s work has value in Marblehead and beyond, Buckey said.

Marblehead parent and Newton North High School Principal Henry Turner is being targeted for his DEI work here in town. COURTESY PHOTO

“With continued incidences of transphobia, antisemitism, racism and homophobia in the forms of words and symbols, it is clear that this work is important,” Buckey said.

There have been several cases of racist, antisemitic and anti-LGBTQ graffiti in Marblehead schools in recent years, including at the Village School in March. Police are still investigating that case.

Turner, who is a man of color and lives in town, serves as principal of Newton North High School. He also does consulting work with school districts around DEI. 

“My family and I are proud residents of Marblehead and send our daughter to Marblehead schools, where she receives an excellent education,” Turner told the Marblehead Current. “As a member of the community, I am happy to help Marblehead Public Schools when support is needed.”

Turner continued, “In my presentation to Marblehead faculty, families and students, I spoke of my daughter’s experience at the Gerry School, where she drew her self-portrait with brown skin and described her face as special. Because of this classroom activity and others in MPS, I am grateful to all of the educators in Marblehead for helping my daughter and so many other students to feel seen and welcomed.”

This is not the first time Parents Defending Education has set its sights on Turner. The organization filed a federal civil rights complaint with the U.S. Department of Education against Newton North last fall, saying a student-led theater production broke the law by limiting auditions to people of color. The case was closed with no findings of discrimination, Turner said.

On its site on April 12, PDE also reported on Newton North’s ToBeGlad (Transgender Bisexual Lesbian Awareness) Day, planned for April 14. 

PDE has targeted many school districts across Massachusetts and the country. Its website says the group is “working to reclaim our schools from activists promoting harmful agendas” and is “fighting indoctrination in the classroom.” It features what it calls an “indoctrination map” and a list of school districts’ “transgender/gender nonconforming policies.”

PDE posted photos of invoices paid to Turner by the Marblehead schools. 

“We posted invoices sent to us by concerned parents who don’t want to see other schools go down the path Newton North has taken,” Erika Sanzi, PDE’s director of outreach wrote in an email sent by a public relations firm.

Through its own public records request, the Marblehead Current learned that three Marblehead women made separate requests for those invoices in 2021 and 2022. Two of the women are vocal critics of the schools on local social media pages. So far, two of the women responded to the Current’s request for a comment and declined.

Racial justice advocates in town were quick to react to the PDE report.

“It’s hard for the Marblehead Racial Justice Team to find words strong enough to denounce an ‘incident report’ on the website of a regressive non-profit, ‘Parents Defending Education,’ targeting Dr. Henry Turner,” the Marblehead Racial Justice Team wrote in a statement. “Dr. Turner is a Marblehead resident, respected educator and presenter, and a visionary about practical steps to combat systemic racism.”

The MRJT statement continued, “As small as the population of people of color is in Marblehead, our town needs to exude admiration for a resident as accomplished as Dr. Turner. That group’s criticism of Dr. Turner revolves around his scholarship and presentations that aid diversity, equity and inclusion in schools.”

+ posts

Leigh Blander is an experienced TV, radio and print journalist who has written hundreds of stories for local newspapers, including the Marblehead Reporter. She also works as a PR specialist.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: