Francis Howell schools cancel video platform due to alleged ‘social agendas’

O'FALLON, Missouri – A video-sharing platform widely used in the Francis Howell School District has been shut down by the district's school board after a member claimed the platform “promotes social agendas.”

The move was met with disappointment at a board meeting Thursday evening, with speakers saying the platform was an important resource for teachers.

“It doesn’t feel like we trust the teachers to do their job,” Anita Kuehner, president of the district’s teachers’ union, told the panel.

The platform, called BrainPop, offers animated videos on educational topics such as math and history. It also includes quizzes and games.

Video about BrainPop's promotional video on YouTube.

Video via BrainPop/YouTube.

At Francis Howell, teachers have used it to explain the U.S. Constitution, peer pressure, the solar system, Martin Luther King Jr., and the water cycle.

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But the program has drawn the ire of conservative political organizations like Moms for Liberty, at least in part because it includes lessons about Black Lives Matter and other issues they see as divisive. The groups have lobbied to end the program in some states, including Florida.

BrainPop is the latest curriculum material to be eliminated from Francis Howell schools by a conservative school board majority. Five avowed conservatives on the seven-member school board have worked in recent years to rid the district of perceived “political indoctrination,” including social justice standards from black history and black literature courses released earlier this year.

In a phone interview Friday, board member Randy Cook, who led the effort to remove BrainPop, said he became aware of the platform when a parent complained that his child had watched a Black Lives Matter video on BrainPop in class.

“Apparently, this child's parent was a police officer and came home and asked the other parent if the police were racist and didn't like black people,” Cook said. “You can imagine the disgust the parents would have at having this discussion with their young child.”

The students were asked to choose a video from the Black History section of BrainPop, Cook said, and the student chose that one. He also pointed to other examples of videos on BrainPop that he felt were biased.

“For example, there's a video of Barack Obama that kind of glorifies his presidency,” Cook said. “Another video mixes the so-called gender identity discussion into a video about personal pronouns.”

Cook first challenged BrainPop last October but ultimately decided to extend the subscription. It was one of his “biggest regrets” on the board, he said on Friday.

Meredith Bates, the district's director of instructional technology for grades K-12, described BrainPop at the time as a resource that teachers and students “care about.”

“It is an important tool for many areas where district resources are lacking,” she said.

Francis Howell School students in kindergarten through eighth grade completed over 80,000 BrainPop activities last school year.

Raquel Babb, a middle school English as a second language teacher, said Thursday that teachers are checking in and looking at what students are seeing on the platform. And some are taking a course at Lindenwood University to learn how to best use the platform, Babb said.

“They will finish a course that they can't even apply for but that they already paid for,” Babb said in an interview.

Newly elected board member Steven Blair and board chair Adam Bertrand were the only ones to vote to keep BrainPop in the district.

At Thursday's meeting, Cook declined to give details of his objection at Blair's urging. Cook “does not support the direction that BrainPOP has taken,” he said.

BrainPop will remain in Francis Howell schools through December, Cook said. The subscription renewal would have cost the district $28,803 and would run from December to July 2025.

It is not yet clear what program, if any, the district will use to replace it.