Woke K-12 Education Goes to Court
Parents and students sue the schools in Loudoun County, Va.
Identity politics reigns in higher education, and progressives are now turning their focus to K-12. In Loudoun County, Virginia, five families are fighting back in court.
Represented by the nonprofit Liberty Justice Center, the parents and students sued the school board in federal court in Alexandria last week. They claim that Loudoun County Public Schools’ policies and programs to address “systemic racism” discriminate on the basis of race and viewpoint.
The plaintiffs take particular issue with the Student Equity Ambassador Network launched last fall. Each middle and high school chooses up to three student ambassadors, who meet regularly with school district officials and the Office of Equity. Unlike 4H or French Club, the complaint says, this “is a formal office the school endows with particular authority to speak on behalf of the student body.”
Initial publications about the program suggested that white students weren’t eligible to become ambassadors. In an FAQ section about the program, the district said “this opportunity is specifically for students of Color.” The plaintiffs say that after critics raised discrimination concerns, the district removed this statement from its website.
School district spokesman Wayde Byard said materials about the ambassador program were “in the process of being reviewed and vetted when it was released prematurely.” He added that the program intends to “be inclusive” while also seeking “to amplify the voice of Students of Color and those who have experienced or witnessed injustices, marginalization, or discrimination.”
Yet the plaintiffs say the program still engages in viewpoint discrimination, since ambassador candidates must espouse a social-justice ideology, “a government-approved orthodox viewpoint in order to participate.” Daniel Suhr, the lead attorney for the plaintiffs, adds that “practically the discrimination is still there” because officials made their racial preferences for the ambassador program known, “even after they’ve technically dropped the criterion.”
A judge will have to decide whether this still violates the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause. But this bait-and-switch defense is a hallmark of woke educators. Colleges, and increasingly K-12 school districts, now often promote segregated programs, meetings or so-called “affinity groups.” Only after they’re called out for discrimination do they claim that all are welcome regardless of race.
The Loudoun plaintiffs have strong claims on free speech grounds. They note that the school district has invited students to anonymously report their peers for vaguely defined “bias incidents.”
The school district’s Mr. Byard says the Office of Equity will collect the data and “use this to drive conversations” in meetings with the equity ambassadors. Students can be punished if they’re judged to have intentionally committed an act of bias, though Mr. Byard says the student ambassadors aren’t involved in the adjudication or disciplinary process.
Similar bias response teams exist at myriad colleges, and they’ve been used to target students and professors who express unpopular views on immigration, transgender issues or Donald Trump, among other things. The plaintiffs worry that if students “share their views about political or social issues, including those touching on religion, race, and human sexuality, they will be reported and investigated for ‘bias incidents.’” They say the school district has chilled speech “by creating a process for anonymously ratting out classmates for anything anyone finds offensive, with no burdens of proof or due process protections.”
The Loudoun suit is notable as a rebuttal to the claim that those who oppose the teaching of critical race theory are engaging in censorship. The plaintiffs here are fighting back against a school district that wants to institutionalize the view that America is systemically racist. They’re defending the freedom to dissent from this imposed orthodoxy.
Parents never asked to be tossed into the cauldron of the culture wars, but the left’s coercion will prevail unless they resist.