EducationLocal NewsParent Accuses Texas Charter School of ‘Sexualized’ Classroom Role-Playing Game

Social Emotional Learning is a term being used in school curriculum and one San Antonio mom says it's been used in the "grooming" of her child.
March 20, 2023
A San Antonio mother has been engaged in a six-month-long confrontation with KIPP Poder Academy after she revealed the pervasiveness of social emotional learning (SEL) in the kinds of activities her child is engaged in.

Laura Maria Gruber has alleged that KIPP exploited her child by engaging them in a role-playing game titled “Bear-Hunter-Hooker.” The game asks students to pose in front of the class as a “seducing hooker,” with another student playing a hunter and another a bear. The aim of the game is to show control over the pose demonstrated by the other students. As the role-playing “hooker” and hunter are engaged in the game, the “hooker” wins by “seducing” him.  

Gruber alleges that the school normalized prostitution and sexualized violence as a “team-building activity.” The school did admit the role-playing activity took place, but denied that the game “sexualized children.”  

In a letter sent to parents in February, the school board acknowledged the incident did not meet KIPP’s “bar of excellence.” In a letter published in March, KIPP Texas Public Schools Board of Directors Chair Gene Austin reiterated the apology.

KIPP is a nationwide network of 280 public charter schools, with four regional networks in Texas. The incident with Gruber occurred at a San Antonio school, but Austin, Dallas, and Houston each host a KIPP charter school network. KIPP Texas has 59 charter schools and educates almost 34,000 Pre-K through 12th grade students.  

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Just as Gruber’s alleged incident with her child took place in a SEL class, the KIPP Texas charter network highlights “restorative practices” and SEL as part of their “academic philosophy.”

As their website states, “restorative practices in schools begin with relationship building and equitable learning environments.” Their “culturally-relevant curriculum” is part of the mission to “prompt conversations about timely and relevant topics such as the Black Lives Matter movement, immigration reform, and elections and politics.”

The KIPP Teacher Resource Guide lays out the “culturally relevant pedagogy” approach for their curriculum. It spotlights Gloria Ladson-Billings’ “Toward a Theory of Culturally Relevant Pedagogy” as the guiding study for how KIPP has developed its instructional framework for the KIPP charter school network. 

Ladson-Billings’ model for student engagement explains that “culturally relevant teaching must meet three criteria: an ability to develop students academically, a willingness to nurture and support cultural competence, and the development of a sociopolitical or critical consciousness.”

KIPP Wheatley is the name for the instructional framework modeled after the philosophy of the “culturally relevant curriculum.”

In this framework designed to “build on previous inclusivity and diversity work,” the curriculum commits at least three modules per grade to “explicitly include people of diverse racial, ethnic, and religious identities,” at least one module per grade that “explicitly explores social justices issues, beginning in grade one,” and includes modules that are “exploring alternative perspectives … so that students can think critically about history.”

The framework’s aim to “create a classroom culture of inclusion” asks teachers and students to “identify stereotypes in literature and popular culture that students may unconsciously incorporate into their thinking and language.” It encourages students and teachers to “build personal and class knowledge of cultural expectations” by giving an example of how a thumbs-up is “deeply offensive in some cultures.”

The framework also encourages teachers to “speak privately in advance with individual students” so they can discuss possible concerns about how some of the concepts are explored in the class.

Just as in Ladson-Billings’ model, teachers are encouraged to incorporate a “fluid student-teacher relationship.” Ladson-Billings provides an example of a teacher’s questioning strategy: “The teacher was careful to help students to understand the difference between an intellectual challenge and a challenge to the authority of their parents. Thus, just as the students were affirmed in their ability to code-switch, or move with facility, in language between African-American language and standard form of English, they were supported in the attempts at role-switching between school and home.”

KIPP Wheatley incorporates “culturally relevant pedagogy” through SEL in grade one. KIPP Texas states the importance of SEL in education as “an opportunity for students to develop a range of cognitive, personal, and social competencies.” They state their “four key cognitive, affective, and behavioral competencies for social-emotional learning: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making.”

The introduction of SEL as early as kindergarten for KIPP is a reflection of the Ladson-Billing model for “scaffolding” education for student engagement.

“Teachers [must] encourage academic success, and cultural competence, they must help students to recognize, understand and critique current social inequities,” Ladson-Billing said.

KIPP has a kindergarten curriculum that incorporates a “social justice/diversity group discussion” wherein teachers are encouraged to ask children to deconstruct a kids story about a bullfighter in Spain. Another example in KIPP kindergarten curriculum has teachers involve students in a “social justice/gender group discussion.”

These ideas are echoed by Ladson-Billing, who cited examples of teachers who “were not reluctant to identify political underpinnings of the students community and social world,” and how teachers “saw their pedagogy as art — unpredictable, always in the process of becoming.”

The SEL programming at KIPP is all relevant to Gruber’s case, as she said in a comment to Fox News: “I think they’re the ground zero for grooming, they just have zero boundaries.”

Texas charter schools receive 100 percent of their funding from state sources, unlike independent school districts that receive local tax revenue. 

The Texas Senate has proposed a school choice reform bill that would grant $8,000 per student. Under this provision, students will be eligible for the program if they are currently enrolled in a public school, attended a public school for 90 percent of the previous year, or are entering Pre-K. Private and homeschool students will not be eligible.

State Sen. Brandon Creighton (R-Conroe) introduced the bill and said in a statement, “Giving parents the power to determine the best school for their child will encourage competition and innovation, ensuring that each Texas student has the opportunity to succeed.”


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Cameron Abrams

Cameron Abrams is a reporter for The Texan. After graduating with a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology from Tabor College and a Master’s Degree from University of the Pacific, Cameron is finishing his doctoral studies where his research focuses on the postmodern philosophical influences in education. In his free time, you will find him listening to a podcast while training for an endurance running event.