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A Tulsa, Okla., school board member came under fire for a social media post critics believed was homophobic and inappropriate, but she said the focus of the meme, and her run for school board, was academic excellence.
E’Lena Ashley, who was elected to the school board in April, was criticized for a post she shared on social media which compared “what third grade children” are learning in China, India and the United States. The meme depicted the children in China and India learning complex math and science, while third-graders in the United States were learning about gender.
“How can we compete,” wrote Ashley in her post.
Comments on the post called it “hateful bigotry” and “inappropriate,” and critics began calling for Ashley to take diversity and inclusion trainings.
Ashley told Fox News Digital the meme was meant to illustrate the importance of “academic excellence.”
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“We need academic excellence in America, and as the meme was obviously stating, other countries prioritize academic excellence, while America, having full capability to do so, seems to have not done that,” Ashley said. “So we need to turn our priorities to our children.”
Following Ashley’s posting of the meme, the Tulsa County Democratic Party encouraged the public to attend the next school board meeting, wearing pride colors.
“Help support the demand for school board members to have LGBTQ Inclusion training. And to keep equality and inclusion in public schools,” one woman wrote on Facebook.
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At the school board meeting, members of the public spoke out about, without directly naming Ashley, about the need for inclusion in schools, and the harm of social media.
“I encourage each board member to spend some time at schools and get to know the children and teachers there so you can see for yourself their intelligence, their spark, and their potential,” one member of the public said, while criticizing the divisiveness of posting on social media.
“I’m here to ask this entire body of elected leaders to engage in learning to better serve students and families,” another commenter said. “This has become divisive unnecessarily. There is nothing extreme about deciding to engage in learning, especially about identities and beliefs different from one’s own.”
Ashley said the school board meeting was a “platform for them to speak and give their ideas,” and added that she believes “all people should be respected and heard.”
Following Ashley’s Facebook post, the Oklahoma Secretary of Education released a statement in support of Ashley.
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“It has come to my attention that a left-wing mob is targeting E’Lena Ashley for diversity, equity and inclusion training due to pressure from outside radical groups,” Secretary Ryan Walters’ letter read. “It would be unacceptable for the Tulsa School Board to require or even entertain this type of targeting of a duly elected school board member.”
Ashley said she initially ran for the school board because she noticed a decline in academic standards.
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“I ran because I noticed in my community, and in several places, our students were not doing well academically,” she said. “As I looked in to it, I found that our grades were failing, and it’s been a continual failing for over 10 years here in Oklahoma, and probably in several other states, and I wanted to make a difference.”
Ashley added that it is “critical to have parents involved in children’s education,” and that an additional priority of hers while on the school board is to increase safety in schools.