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DEI Director – And BLM Board Member — Out at Exeter School District

After months of concerns from district parents about his connection to anti-Israel protests, Andres Mejia, the head of SAU 16’s Diversity, Inclusion, Equity and Justice (DEIJ) Department, is resigning.

The news comes just days after an NHJournal report highlighting the six-figure salaries some DEI directors are receiving from public schools in the state.

However, the district says there is nothing to read into Mejia leaving his post this month, well before the end of the school year.

Mejia did not respond to a request for comment. But SAU 16 Superintendent Esther Asbell said he simply needed to start his new job.

“Andres was asked by his new employer to be available as soon as possible,” Asbell said.

His departure was first reported by Granite Grok.

Mejia, reportedly earning a $153,380 salary, has been a controversial figure since first being hired. He serves in the leadership of the Black Lives Matter Seacoast chapter, which has been helping organize anti-Israel protests for months.

Like many similar protests that claim to be pro-Palestinian, the group started agitating against Israel immediately after Hamas terrorists murdered 1,300 Israelis on Oct. 7. Chants of “From the River to the Sea, Palestine Will Be Free,” viewed by the Anti-Defamation League as a call for genocide, feature heavily at those demonstrations.

When at least one parent complained to Asbell about Mejia’s role in BLM during the anti-Israel protests, asking how he could defend students against bigotry when BLM was engaging in antisemitic rhetoric, Asbell defended Mejia.

“Upon review of (district policy) I do not believe our DEI-J director is in violation of the policy by holding a position as Vice Chair of Seacoast BLM,” Asbell wrote earlier this year.

It’s not the first time Mejia’s BLM association raised concern in the school community. Challenged by parents during a public meeting in 2021, Mejia refused to distance himself from the group.

“I am Black, and I can never separate myself from Black Lives Matter,” Mejia said. “My life matters.”

Since then, BLM Seacoast has publicly opposed having police officers in public schools, giving qualified immunity protection for police, and it supports having government monitoring of the personal social media accounts of police officers.

Though he’s not a classroom teacher, Mejia is also one of the lead plaintiffs in the federal lawsuit over the so-called “divisive concepts” law. The pending lawsuit was filed soon after the legislature passed an anti-discrimination law that banned teachers from “teaching that any one group is inherently inferior, superior, racist or oppressive.” The words “divisive concepts” appear nowhere in the actual statute, though the term is often used by progressives opposed to the law.

Ironically, Mejia is one of a handful of other DEI professionals whose role is to dictate what teachers are allowed to teach.

Asbell said SAU 16 is ready to hire another DEIJ director.

‘Pro-Hoe’ Activists and BLM Leaders Bring DEI to NH Public Schools

Rachael Blansett was hired in 2022 by the Oyster River School District in Durham, N.H., for a salary somewhere between $95,000 and $105,000.

Andres Mejia at SAU 16 in Exeter is getting paid a salary of more than $100,000.

But neither of them are educating students or maintaining schools. Instead, they’re both paid to make sure the teachers and staff are advancing the race-based cause of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) in their local classrooms.

For the 2021-2022 school year, the New Hampshire Department of Education reported the average public school teacher salary was $62,695.

Driven by school committees and superintendents committed to the so-called “DEI movement,” some New Hampshire public schools are hiring professional DEI directors, some with little real classroom experience, to lecture teachers, staff, and students about equity.

Interestingly, they are frequently paid significantly more than most teachers.

DEI programs, sometimes known as DEIJ for those who include “Justice” in the acronym, became fashionable following the nationwide protests over George Floyd’s 2020 murder by police in Minneapolis. They are common on college campuses. The University of New Hampshire has its own DEI division with at least nine full-time positions and a seven-figure budget.

Blansett, who never worked as a regular classroom teacher before getting the Oyster River job, is responsible for “work(ing) with teachers, administrators, and students to integrate DEIJ throughout the district. (Blansett) will lead trainings for teachers, revise curriculums so they align with district values of equity and inclusion, and act as a resource for anyone in the Oyster River community to ask questions about DEIJ taught in a classroom,” according to the district.

When Blansett isn’t advocating for race and gender-based education in Durham schools, she’s providing “racial equity education” for the New Hampshire chapter of Black Lives Matter.

According to its website, “Black Lives Matter New Hampshire strives to bring education to the community by providing training on diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice within organizations, schools, and other local groups.” According to the biography linked to the page, Blansett’s “academic interests” include “challenging anti-Blackness and colonization ideology and theorizing/implementing accessible and liberatory practices.”

Rachael Blansett

And even before she came to New Hampshire, Blansett was speaking out for what she sees as racial justice. During a school board meeting in 2022, first reported by Granite Grok, it was revealed she recorded podcasts and posted comments on social media featuring messages like, “White people are not OK,” and “White people don’t wash their legs, and can’t dance.”

Blansett also raised eyebrows when photographed wearing a T-shirt with the slogan “Pro Black, Pro Queer and Pro Hoe.”

When hired, she explained the controversial podcast was a collaboration with a friend and pledged to discontinue the project. She also claimed her comments about White people were not made with racist intentions.

At SAU 16 in Exeter, Mejia also has little classroom experience. Mejia did work as a Teach for America teacher for several months before becoming DEI director. And like Blansett, Mejia is directly involved with Black Lives Matter, serving as vice chair of the state chapter.

Confronted about his membership in an organization that has advocated race-based public policies, called for the defunding of the police, and has been rocked by financial scandals, Mejia said he would not quit BLM.

“I am Black, and I can never separate myself from Black Lives Matter,” he told concerned parents in 2021. “My life matters.”

SAU 16’s DEI statement makes clear part of Mejia’s job is to help students understand their personal role in upholding systemic racism and bigotry.

“Part of our educational mission is to awaken our students’ awareness of their power and privilege so that they may view the world through a lens of equity and help eliminate unjust systems and practices,” the district statement.

Peggy Massicotte, an SAU 16 parent, says the baked-in bigotry animating the district’s DEI program and Mejia’s BLM leadership shows the whole position ought to be scrapped.

“We have to look at the way we’re teaching this to kids,” Massicotte told NHJournal.

Massicotte also mentioned BLM’s role in recent pro-Palestinian protests in which antisemitic and genocidal slogans are chanted, like “There is only one solution/intifada revolution.”

“He’s the [BLM] vice chairman,” Massicotte noted.

Mejia and Blansett are both NH Listen Fellows at the University for New Hampshire’s Carsey School of Public Policy, as is Tina Phillbotte, the Manchester School District’s DEI Director, who is paid close to $120,000 a year.

UNH recently underwent a punishing round of layoffs and cuts to save $14 million in the budget. While the university’s art museum and journalism program, which has produced Pulitzer Prize-winning reporters, were affected, there appear to be no cuts to the university’s DEI programs. UNH pays at least $1 million a year in salaries for the DEI program staffers.

Closing the art museum saves UNH about $1 million.

Judge Won’t End Exeter Teen’s Trans Speech Case; Cites ‘Constitutional Issues’

Rockingham Superior Court Judge David Ruoff rejected requests for summary judgment from both the Exeter High School student claiming he was discriminated against for saying there are only two genders and the school’s attorney, citing “constitutional issues.”

Attorneys for both SAU 16 and the Exeter High School student known as M.P. asked Ruoff for summary judgment. That would essentially have the judge give one side a win and close the case.

Ruoff, however, said there is too much in the case that is in dispute for him to make such a ruling, including constitutional questions that need to be addressed.

“Each version of the relevant events implicates different constitutional issues and consideration,” Ruoff wrote in the July 29 ruling. “Thus, due to the presence of a genuine issue of material fact, the court finds summary judgment inappropriate.”

In his lawsuit, M.P. claims he was disciplined for expressing his views, informed by his Catholic faith, that there are only two genders. M.P. claims he expressed those views outside of the school campus—on a school bus and later through a text app—and that he was suspended from the football team after the conversation was reported to school officials.

Exeter High School and SAU 16 officials say M.P. was disciplined for being a bully and not for expressing his religious views.

The district’s attorney, Michel Eaton claimed M.P. is not the victim of religious discrimination but instead was benched for a game by his coach for violating the team’s code of conduct. The benching had nothing to do with the school’s transgender discrimination policies, according to Eaton.

“M.P.’s coach did not decide to bench M.P. based upon M.P.’s opinion that there are only two genders, nor would he. Rather, M.P. was benched for using crude, inappropriate, and disrespectful language while communicating with Student Doe. This behavior was consistent with M.P.’s documented history of bullying and inappropriate behavior, including such behavior on the school bus and such behavior targeted at Student Doe specifically,” Eaton wrote in the district’s response to the lawsuit.

Court records indicate M.P. and Student Doe’s conversation included M.P. calling Student Doe a “bozo,” and M.P. telling Student Doe to “STFU” because “there’s only 2 genders.” Student Doe took those texts to Coach William Ball, according to the court record.

Ball then took M.P. to Vice Principal Marcy Dovholuk, who told him he would be benched for a week because of the “conversation about pronouns.”

Ball later reduced the suspension to one game, based on M.P.’s alleged violation of the athletic code of conduct.

M.P. ‘s lawyers say the benching was in retaliation for his conservative view of gender.

Exeter High School and SAU 16 have been on the frontlines of the culture wars in New Hampshire. Andres Mejia, the director of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Justice for the Exeter Region Cooperative School District, is part of the federal lawsuit against the state over the so-called “banned concepts” law, claiming the state is trying to stop teaching about racial and gender issues.

The anti-discrimination law prohibits students from being taught that “a person, because of their membership in one or more identified group(s), is inherently either: (1) racist, sexist, or oppressive, consciously or unconsciously or (2) superior or inferior to people of another identified group.”

Mejia is also a member of the controversial Black Lives Matter organization and denied it creates a conflict when dealing with students based on race or ideology.

Last year, Exeter High School also got in trouble after staff at the prom started putting Sharpie marks on the hands of students who had not been vaccinated against COVID-19. Numerous parents complained, prompting a joint review by the New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office and the Department of Education, which called the prom fiasco a “disturbing failure.”

The review found the staff at the prom had already been told by administrators to not do anything of the kind before they started marking students.

“The fact that supervising SAU 16 staff did not stop the contact tracing procedure, despite having acknowledged receiving the email from the superintendent informing all staff that they were not to ask students about their vaccine status, is a very disturbing failure to protect students,” the statement reads.

The Attorney General’s Office (AGO) and DOE joint investigation came after months of complaints from parents ranging from the prom incident to the way a sexual assault was reported. The review looked at six issues in the school district. While lapses in some cases were noted, there did not appear to be any criminal or civil charges forthcoming, according to the report.

“The AGO does not find any violation of New Hampshire law regarding discrimination due to this issue. However, both the AGO and DOE are deeply concerned regarding the public marking of students’ hands and the lack of protection for students’ vaccination information,” the joint statement read.

No Deal Likely in Exeter “Two Genders” Lawsuit

A Superior Court judge has ordered mediation in the lawsuit brought after Exeter High School officials punished a Catholic student for saying there are two genders.

However, Ian Huyett, the attorney for the student and his family, says a settlement is unlikely given Exeter’s current stance, expressed in a recent letter to the school community.

“Given the contents of the letter that (Superintendent) David Ryan sent out on Wednesday, I don’t anticipate that they’ll have any interest in doing that,” Huyett said. 

Ryan sent the letter last week, doubling down on the district’s stated embrace of diversity after Judge David Ruoff issued the scheduling order, which stipulates the two sides attempt to settle the case through an Alternative Dispute Resolution.

“Despite our best intentions to create a safe and welcoming environment for all in our community, we have members in our community who continue to experience feelings of hate and disrespect,” Ryan wrote. “We are a community of acceptance. This means we welcome you with all of your uniqueness, no matter your race, religion/spiritual beliefs, sex, age, national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity, ability/disability, or family structure.”

The student, known in the lawsuit as M.P., claims he was disciplined for expressing his views, informed by his Catholic faith, that there are only two genders. M.P. claims he expressed these views outside of school and off the football field.

Exeter High School and SAU 16 officials struck back saying M.P. was disciplined for being a bully, not for expressing his religious views. The district’s attorney, Michel Eaton claims M.P. is not the victim of religious discrimination. Instead, he was benched for one game by his coach for violating the team’s code of conduct. The benching had nothing to do with the school’s transgender discrimination policies, according to Eaton.

“M.P.’s coach did not decide to bench M.P. based upon M.P.’s opinion that there are only two genders, nor would he. Rather, M.P. was benched for using crude, inappropriate, and disrespectful language while communicating with Student Doe. This behavior was consistent with M.P.’s documented history of bullying and inappropriate behavior, including such behavior on the school bus and such behavior targeted at Student Doe specifically,” Eaton wrote in the district’s response to the lawsuit.

Student Doe, who is not transgendered, is the student with whom M.P. had a reportedly heated conversation about gender and sexuality while on the school bus. This conversation later continued via text messaging, according to court records. Student Doe, in turn, reported the conversation to M.P.’s coach, Eaton wrote.

“M.P.’s coach took what he believed to be an appropriate and limited remedial measure to teach and ensure the respect that is expected of all student athletes,” Eaton wrote.

Huyett claims in the lawsuit that M.P. was punished for expressing his opinion, not for violating any rule.

“M. P. did not harass or demean any student, but simply expressed his views on a contentious cultural issue,” Huyett said in a statement.

Huyett is an attorney with Cornerstone, a conservative Christian organization. While Cornerstone is defending M.P.’s First Amendment rights in this case, the state’s ACLU has been silent. Instead, New Hampshire’s ACLU is part of a federal lawsuit, along with Exeter’s Andres Mejia, against the state over the so-called “banned concepts” law. Mejia is the director of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Justice for the Exeter Region Cooperative School District, and a board member of the Black Lives Matter Seacoast organization.

The anti-discrimination law challenged by the ACLU and Mejia, signed by Gov. Chris Sununu as part of the state budget, prohibits students from being taught that “a person, because of their membership in one or more identified group(s), is inherently either: (1) racist, sexist, or oppressive, consciously or unconsciously or (2) superior or inferior to people of another identified group.”

Exeter High Labels Catholic Student ‘Bully,’ Defends Punishment Over Free Speech

Exeter High School and SAU 16 struck back against a Catholic student suing over his free speech rights, saying he was disciplined for being a bully and not for expressing his religious views. However, they acknowledge in their court filing that the “bullying” in question was expressing his opinion on gender.

The student, known in the lawsuit as M.P., claims he was disciplined for expressing his opinion, informed by his Catholic faith, that there are only two genders. M.P. expressed these views off the school campus and was then suspended from the football team for one game, according to his lawsuit.

The district’s attorney, Michel Eaton, wrote in a response to the lawsuit filed late last week, there is no free speech case here. Eaton also claims M.P. was not suspended by the school, but benched for one game by his coach. The benching had nothing to do with the school’s anti-discrimination policies regarding transgender issues.

“M.P.’s coach did not decide to bench M.P. based upon M.P.’s opinion that there are only two genders, nor would he. Rather, M.P. was benched for using crude, inappropriate, and disrespectful language while communicating with Student Doe. This behavior was consistent with M.P.’s documented history of bullying and inappropriate behavior, including such behavior on the school bus and such behavior targeted at Student Doe specifically,” Eaton wrote.

Student Doe, who is not transgender or non-binary, is the student with whom M.P. had a reportedly heated conversation regarding gender and sexuality while on the school bus. The conversation later continued via text messaging, according to court records. Student Doe, in turn, reported the conversation — which took place outside the classroom and off the football field — to M.P.’s coach, Eaton wrote.

“M.P. ‘s coach took what he believed to be an appropriate and limited remedial measure to teach and ensure the respect that is expected of all student athletes,” Eaton wrote.

According to Eaton’s filing, Student Doe and M.P. have a long-standing antagonistic relationship. Eaton submitted as evidence the football team code of conduct, which M.P. signed, and copies of the text conversation between M.P. and Student Doe. However, both items were sealed by the court and not available to the public. 

Whether or not M.P. engaged in bullying, the district acknowledges in Eaton’s filing that M.P. was disciplined for expressing his views, however crudely, while off-campus. It’s similar to the free-speech case in which a Pennsylvania high school student was disciplined after she posted a profanity-laced message to Snapchat that she recorded at a convenience store.

The U. S. Supreme Court last year ruled 8 to 1 in favor of Brandi Levy, the former cheerleader at Mahanoy Area High School. The high court found the school violated Levy’s First Amendment rights when it reprimanded and suspended her from the junior varsity team because of her off-campus comments about the cheer team.

While the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) sided with Levy in her case, the New Hampshire ACLU has been silent in the case of M.P. In the past, protecting an individual’s personal speech against government action would have been a classic ACLU  case. But the organization has become openly partisan, as The New York Times reported in a story headlined “Once a Bastion of Free Speech, the A.C.L.U. Faces an Identity Crisis.”

Instead of suing on behalf of an individual’s rights,  New Hampshire’s ACLU is part of a federal lawsuit opposing New Hampshire’s new anti-discrimination law. They want to overturn the law preventing teachers and government employees from teaching that “a person, because of their membership in one or more identified group(s), is inherently either: (1) racist, sexist, or oppressive, consciously or unconsciously or (2) superior or inferior to people of another identified group.”

The ACLU-NH is joined in the lawsuit by Andres Mejia,  director of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Justice for the Exeter Region Cooperative School District, and a board member of the Black Lives Matter Seacoast organization. Some Exeter parents have questioned whether a member of a group that claims all white people, regardless of their behavior, participate in white supremacy can treat students fairly. 

Writing about the Exeter case in the Portsmouth Herald, former political consultant Alicia Preston Xanthopoulos defended the Catholic student’s right to express opinions others — including the school district — don’t like.

“No one has the right not to be offended. I do actually have the right to say something that might offend you,” Xanthopoulos wrote. “That’s precisely why there is the First Amendment. It’s not there to protect popular speech, it is there to protect you from being punished by the government for speech that is not popular.

“Which, horrifyingly, is precisely what occurred here.”