Employees: “Equity” training was anything but
Two recent lawsuits challenge race-based education
Veteran Missouri school employee Brooke Henderson knew something was wrong with her school district’s “equity” training, especially when her district’s equity and diversity officer told trainees that “parents are the oppressors of their children” and “educators have a duty to vote for socialist politicians.”
In a federal complaint filed last week, Henderson, a process coordinator who advocates for students with disabilities, and records secretary Jennifer Lumley contend that the Springfield Public School District violated their free speech rights when it compelled them to endorse certain statements about race during the fall 2020 training.
That training included an “Oppression Matrix” that invited participants to identify their “privilege.” A chart provided to trainees identified white people, males, heterosexuals, rich people, and Protestants, among others, as oppressors. Another chart identified as “covert white supremacy” slogans such as “all lives matter,” “colorblindness,” or the Trump campaign slogan, “make America great.”
“Fostering racial identities, promoting the idea that they are in conflict, and perpetuating divisive stereotypes pits individuals against one another based on the color of their skin,” the complaint states. It argues the school district’s “practices take its employees and students further from the truth and reconciliation.”
Henderson and Lumley contend that they were not permitted to disagree with the content in the equity training. They were told that disagreement would be deemed disrespectful, and if they opted out of the training, their pay would be docked.
In a statement emailed to WORLD, a representative of Springfield Public Schools called the lawsuit “frivolous” and “part of a misinformation campaign.” The district said it was “prepared to vigorously defend our efforts to honor and respect the identities and lived experiences of all students and staff.” The representative did not respond to a question about whether the district coerced employees into stating they agreed with the material presented in the equity training.
The Missouri lawsuit joins a previous federal lawsuit filed in late June by Stacy Deemar, an Evanston, Ill., drama teacher who says the school district violated Title VI of the Civil Rights Act and the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution by segregating teachers and students by race—again, part of an equity curriculum.
A 2019 civil rights complaint Deemar filed with the U.S. Department of Education said the district directed teachers to participate in racially segregated “affinity groups”—a claim upheld in department findings issued in January 2021. The agency abruptly withdrew the ruling after President Joe Biden took office later that month.
In her June 29 lawsuit, Deemar criticized the school district’s race-based programming. “What seems like a relatively benign cause—also euphemistically called ‘social justice,’ ‘diversity and inclusion,’ ‘critical race theory,’ and ‘culturally responsive teaching’—is actually code-speak for a much bigger and more dangerous picture,” her attorneys argue, one that teaches students and teachers to be racist.
Both cases are part of a handful of legal actions challenging school districts’ increasing implementation of critical race theory (CRT), a doctrine that claims the United States was founded on racism, oppression, and white supremacy—forces allegedly still at the root of our society. Southeastern Legal Foundation’s Kimberly Hermann, who represented educators in both cases, anticipates more lawsuits in the months ahead.
“Whether you want to call it critical race theory … it’s euphemistically the same thing as ‘equity,’ the same thing as ‘diversity' and ‘inclusion’—all of these are words that at the end of the day are used to pit different racial groups against each other,” said Hermann. “This may seem strong, but it’s true, and that is that it’s teaching our nonwhite kids to hate, and it’s teaching our white kids to hate themselves.”
At least 28 states have moved to restrict teaching of CRT concepts in schools, though not all have enacted legislation, reports Chalkbeat. Texas bars schools from teaching that any race is “inherently superior to another” or that “an individual, by virtue of his or her race or sex, is inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive.”
Hermann said CRT proponents push a political agenda that crowds out the real goals of education: preparing children to be successful and mature adults. A parent herself, Hermann offers advice to parents: “Pay attention to what your kids are learning, listen to what they are talking about, look at the books that are in their media center … and if something is troubling, go to your school administration and school board and do everything you can to stop it.”