Donors pressured Jacksonville private school to drop diversity curriculum

School official says decision to ditch Pollyanna program had nothing to do with donors’ message

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Six days before The Bolles School announced it would not move forward with a planned diversity curriculum, the Board of Trustees and others received a message signed by five former board chairmen saying financial support was in jeopardy if the school adopted the curriculum.

“As a past board chairman, alumnus and past-parent, we are deeply concerned about the direction of our school,” the letter said in part. “... Now, it seems we are responding to social agendas, requiring these agendas within our curriculum and telling students how to think.”

The letter was addressed to the current board of trustees and its chair, Fernando Acosta-Rua. The letter was signed by A. Chester Skinner III, Richard Dostie, Clancey Houston, Rodney McLauchlan and William Lynch — all of them former chairmen of the school’s Board of Trustees.

The letter was forwarded via email by Skinner to a group of over 30 stakeholders, including current board members, with a note advising the group to “please read and take under serious consideration as [you] make your decision tomorrow as to the path of our school going forward.”

This letter was sent to the board of trustees of The Bolles School on Jan. 20, 2021. (Copyright 2021 by WJXT News4Jax - All rights reserved.)

Current President and Head of School Tyler Hodges responded to News4Jax’s inquiry about the letter, acknowledging it was sent, but Hodges said it had nothing to do with the school’s decision to drop the Pollyanna curriculum.

“It had absolutely no bearing on our decision to change course on our curriculum implementation,” Hodges said in an emailed response. “The decision to pursue alternative enhancements to our curriculum was made weeks earlier.”

The decision, Hodges said in a Jan. 26 post on the school’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion page, was made because “certain elements of the Pollyanna curriculum created much angst amongst our community,” but it wasn’t clear which parts of the curriculum were at issue.

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