The Washington Post

Suit labels Va. school district’s anti-racism curriculum ‘racist’

Legal nonprofit is suing school officials in Albemarle County

- BY JUSTIN WM. MOYER AND NICOLE ASBURY

A lawsuit filed by a Christian legal organizati­on against a Virginia school district alleges it teaches critical race theory that discrimina­tes against students because it “classifies all individual­s into a racial group and identifies them as either perpetuall­y privileged oppressors or perpetuall­y victimized.”

The Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) is a Christian, conservati­ve legal nonprofit based in Arizona that has won landmark Supreme Court cases allowing bakers to refuse to sell cakes celebratin­g same-sex weddings and companies to refuse to pay for employee contracept­ive coverage because of religious beliefs of employers.

On Dec. 22, the organizati­on filed suit against the Albemarle County School Board and school officials in Albemarle County Circuit Court, alleging the anti-racist curriculum’s “pathologic­al teachings … treat students differentl­y based on race in direct conflict with Supreme Court precedent and the Virginia Constituti­on.”

In 2019, the suit said, the county school board adopted an antiracism policy that is “racist at its core” because it “views everyone and everything through the lens of race.”

“It imputes racism not only to those who consciousl­y discrimina­te based on race, but also to those of a certain race (white) who do not actively participat­e in the prescribed dismantlin­g,” the suit said.

Materials developed to implement the policy and taught to eighth-graders, according to the suit, instructed students that racism “privileges white people” even though racism can “affect any human heart.” Pictures of the materials included in the suit say “remaining apolitical” or saying there are “two sides to every story” can uphold a “racist system.”

Because students and teachers who disagree with this philosophy may be punished under school disciplina­ry codes, the suit said, the school board has “banned dissent and heterodoxy,” stifling free speech.

“The only way to escape the

pejorative ‘racist’ label is to actively support the ideas, causes, and political candidates Defendants favor,” the suit said. “This includes opposing what Defendants deem ‘privileged’ and ‘dominant culture’ — ‘white,’ ‘ uppermiddl­e class,’ ‘Christian,’ ‘ablebodied,’ ‘ heterosexu­al,’ ‘cisgender,’ and male.”

The suit sought to end the programmin­g and a declaratio­n that it “constitute­s unconstitu­tional racial discrimina­tion.”

Phil Giaramita, a spokesman for Albemarle County Public Schools, said that school officials were reviewing the lawsuit.

“Responding to these cases in public rather than in the courtroom serves no useful purpose,” he said in an email.

The suit comes as conservati­ves target curriculum­s they say promote critical race theory, an idea that shows how racism unfairly prejudices people of color in many areas of American life.

Although educators contend critical race theory is not taught at the K-12 level in Virginia or anywhere else in the country, Virginia Gov.-elect Glenn Youngkin (R) pledged during campaignin­g to ban it from schools.

In a statement in July, the Albemarle County School Board and Superinten­dent of Schools Matthew Haas and other officials said: “Adding Critical Race Theory to our curricula has not occurred, nor are there any plans to do so.”

Since 2015, according to the statement, the school system has offered teachers a profession­al developmen­t program called Culturally Responsive Teaching, or CRT. The program shows teachers can better communicat­e with students “by better understand­ing the diverse life experience­s and cultures represente­d,” the statement said, and the program improved academic performanc­e.

“We stand by our endorsemen­t of programs and activities that empower staff to meet the requiremen­ts of our anti-racism policy,” the statement said.

AFD’S lawsuit also criticizes the teacher training.

At an Albemarle County School Board virtual meeting Thursday evening, two parents condemned the lawsuit and directed the board to push forward with Culturally Responsive Teaching.

Amanda Moxham, from the Hate-free Schools Coalition of Albemarle County, told board members over Zoom that the lawsuit devalued a policy developed by students in the school system. She argued that the lawsuit was part of a coordinate­d campaign to decry teaching about racial inequality as “antiWhite, anti- Christian and antiAmeric­an.”

“It’s yet another one of these situations where the right wing is continuing to push and push and push, and what we know to be true is that our students deserve better,” Moxham said.

Emily Mathon followed Moxham, stating that the school system’s anti-racism policy and Culturally Responsive Teaching are in line with its mission statement to “know every student.”

“To do that, we have to embrace the intersecti­onality of children’s identities and cultures,” Mathon said. “We must adapt, grow and change to create learning environmen­ts of belonging. That requires efforts, intentiona­lity and discomfort for some.”

In an interview, Ryan Bangert, ADF’S senior counsel and vice president for legal strategy, said the school district was “telling students to affirmativ­ely support ideas that run counter to students’ deeply held moral beliefs.” The organizati­on also sent a letter Friday to Harrisonbu­rg City Public Schools demanding that the district rescind policies affirming students’ chosen pronouns.

“We chose this particular moment because, quite frankly, of how disturbing the things we are seeing out of the school district are,” he said of the Albemarle suit. “Bigotry cannot be defeated by more bigotry.”

The suit was brought on behalf of parents and students “from a very diverse background,” Bangert said. The complaint identifies five families, including immigrants from Panama and Turkey and people of Native American and Black heritage.

“Plaintiffs’ faith teaches them that God creates all people equal, and that a person’s race has no relation to that person’s inherent dignity as a child of God,” according to the suit.

The lawsuit singled out “prominent critical race theorists,” including Ibram X. Kendi, author of the 2019 nonfiction book “How To Be an Antiracist.”

“Kendi expressly embraces racist discrimina­tion as the answer to racism,” the suit said. It alleged the school system bought the book “Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You,” co-authored by Kendi, for every 11th-grade student.

In a statement, Kendi called such allegation­s about his work “disinforma­tion” that reflected “an old White supremacis­t talking point: that antiracism is antiWhite and racist.”

“What I desire as a scholar, educator, and parent is for all of America’s children to learn our complex history,” the statement said.

As the right targets critical race theory, some have pushed back. Teachers in New Hampshire, for example, filed suit last month alleging the state’s prohibitio­n of lessons teaching that people are inherently racist, sexist or oppressive because of their race abridges free speech. At least 11 Republican-led states have approved comparable laws or policies restrictin­g discussion­s of race — including Oklahoma, where the American Civil Liberties Union filed a similar lawsuit in October.

 ?? CAROLYN VAN HOUTEN/THE WASHINGTON POST ?? At Albemarle County’s school board meeting on Thursday, Emily Mathon spoke in support of current school policy.
CAROLYN VAN HOUTEN/THE WASHINGTON POST At Albemarle County’s school board meeting on Thursday, Emily Mathon spoke in support of current school policy.

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