Shawn and Amy Souza

Shawn and Amy Souza called their daughter’s assignment to explore the industrial revolution and the way children were treated as “gruesome.”

Shawn and Amy Souza are frustrated with the Peoria Unified School District and Sunset Heights Elementary School. 

The parents of 10- and 13-year-old children, the couple are unhappy with the district’s curriculum. They said district officials agreed to change what they call “violent” lesson plans; however, they reneged on it. 

“We became aware of a lot of racial and political things going on in our daughter’s seventh grade social studies class,” Amy said. 

“We wanted to review the lesson plans ahead of time. It was a nightmare to get it. We tried the teacher, principal, curriculum department and the superintendent.”

The Souzas were given a “long list” of links from which the teacher could choose. They saw an assignment that was “really gruesome and inappropriate” about the way children were treated during the industrial revolution. According to the Souzas, the lesson plan involved children slaughtering animals and the kids’ ears falling off.

“We exercised the right to opt the kids out through email,” she said. “We received a confirmation through email that our daughter would receive a separate assignment and a place to do it. Later that afternoon, they rescinded on our agreement and had our daughter do the assignment.”

Shawn added, “It was violent, and we weren’t comfortable with it. The ultimate assignment was to make their own book cover. I don’t see the point of it. It is not educational or helpful.”

Amy said it did not matter what the assignment was, if she and her husband said it was inappropriate, the district should have given their daughter a different project. 

The Souzas brought their concerns to the Peoria Unified School District school board meeting on Oct. 14. 

During their comments, they outlined the statement of allegations they filed with the Arizona Board of Education against the Peoria Unified School District. “This unprecedented path to seek retribution for the school’s actions may provide a path for parents desperate to hold schools accountable,” said Alleigh Marré, president of Free to Learn. 

Marré has been working to empower parents since her national organization made an effort to push back against politics in Peoria classrooms.

“By shining a light on this incident with their complaint, Amy and Shawn are setting an example for other parents in Arizona and around the country as they pursue a quality education for their children free of activism,” Marré said. 

“If parents work within the parameters of the school and follow all the rules, they should see results. Instead, what we saw in Peoria was deceit and an intentional push to keep parents in the dark. At Free to Learn, we want to empower these parents and give them a platform to advocate for their children when all else fails.”

In the Souzas’ complaint issued to the Arizona Board of Education, they included emails that show the Peoria school leadership “blatantly ignoring and clearly violating the Arizona Parents Bill of Rights, which allows parents to opt their children out of curriculum they deem harmful,” Marré said. 

She said emails between faculty members show the school acknowledged these requests but “lied” to the couple about the actions being taken.

District spokeswoman Danielle Airey said, “We are aware of the Souzas’ concern and worked with them to address it throughout the last school year.” The district will take the lead from the Arizona Board of Education, but it has not received information on the next steps.

Amy said she and Shawn were also upset with the inclusion of Rosa Parks, George Floyd and the 2013 Black Lives Matter demonstrations in lesson plans. 

“They called it a historical timeline,” Shawn said. “It is not ‘historical timeline.’ It’s a ‘political timeline.’ It didn’t have much to do with history.

“It’s supposed to be history. This is still playing out. We don’t know the gist of everything that’s happened.”

Amy added, “We pushed back on a lot of the assignment, but we were railroaded. Everything was negative and politically slanted. The children were aware of where this teacher stood politically and pushing that on the kids. People who have nothing to hid, hide nothing.”