Virginia parents take critical race theory to court
Lawsuit says the controversial curriculum fosters racial discrimination in public schools
A new curriculum at some schools in Albemarle County, Va., teaches middle school students to identify “white privilege” and support “anti-racism.” Parents skeptical of such classes are pushing back in court.
In a complaint filed in Virginia state court on Dec. 23, a group of Albemarle County parents contended that the anti-racism curriculum, implemented earlier this year, violates state constitutional protections from discrimination based on race, viewpoint, or religion. They argue the schools are infringing on their children’s right to free speech, and they point to their constitutional right to control the education and upbringing of their children.
At issue in the largely rural county, home to the college town of Charlottesville, is the controversial system of beliefs known as critical race theory (CRT), according to the complaint. The academic theory, the lawsuit contends, “views everyone and everything through the lens of race” and “fosters racial division, racial stereotyping, and racial hostility.”
The anti-racism curriculum teaches students that “racism” is “the marginalization and/or oppression of people of color based on a socially constructed racial hierarchy that privileges white people.” It asks white students to consider their white privilege and status as oppressors while teaching black students to identify themselves as victims of white privilege and white supremacy.
Alliance Defending Freedom’s Ryan Bangert, who represents the parents, points to the origin of the problem as a 2019 school board policy aimed at eliminating “all forms of racism.” Bangert said the school board and administrators are making a concerted effort to push what began as a pilot program into all aspects of school curriculum.
“This is a radical ideology that redefines and reconceptualizes our understanding of racism, segregates and divides kids by their race, and tells them that their race is the controlling factor in what they can be and do with their lives,” said Bangert. “These are messages we fought for decades to overcome, and now comes Albemarle County reinjecting these principles into the curriculum.”
Parents in Albemarle County aren’t the first to draw attention to such teachings about race. In December 2020, a black Nevada mother sued her biracial son’s charter high school after a mandatory “Sociology of Change” course required students to label themselves as either “oppressor” or “oppressed” based on their race, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, and religious faith. The school backed down only after a federal judge ruled its policies unconstitutional, according to Daniel Suhr, a Liberty Justice Center attorney who represented the mother and son.
Last summer, school employees in Missouri and Illinois filed lawsuits challenging mandatory training in a similar “anti-racist” curriculum, saying they were not allowed to express disagreement with its contents and were threatened with docked pay if they opted out of the classes. Both cases remain pending, with the Missouri trial set to begin on Jan. 17.
Legislators in at least 25 states have enacted or proposed laws putting the brakes on CRT teaching in schools, reported Manhattan Institute senior fellow James Copland, who has authored model legislation on the subject. The American Civil Liberties Union has pushed back against those efforts as an infringement on free speech. In the first such challenge, the civil rights organization filed a lawsuit in October attacking an Oklahoma law for promoting “chilled and censored speech.”
Christopher Rufo, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, called that argument legally and morally groundless. “The First Amendment protects the right of individuals to speak freely, especially in opposition to a potentially tyrannical government; the government itself, according to most court rulings, does not have a First Amendment right as such,” he wrote in City Journal last year.
—WORLD has updated this story to correct Christopher Rufo’s current affiliation.
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