Landmark Lawsuit Challenges Race-Based Programming in Schools

The battleground for the future of the American republic is in our public schools. K-12 schools across our nation have replaced traditional education with race-based programming in the name of “equity.” What may have initially gone unnoticed by parents has now been exposed as a license to punish students as young as 4 years old based on the color of their skin.  

Public schools are an arm of the government. The check on that power is in the courtroom. It is well-settled law that in America, the government cannot discriminate against people because of the color of their skin. This is what we call equality, and it is enshrined in the 14th Amendment to our Constitution and our civil rights laws.

Recognizing this, a brave drama teacher in Evanston, Illinois, represented by Southeastern Legal Foundation, recently filed a historic lawsuit in federal court to stop Evanston/Skokie School District 65 from discriminating against all of its teachers and all of its students on the basis of race through illegal and unconstitutional teacher training, classroom curriculum, and overall policies. 

The lawsuit became necessary after the Biden administration withdrew, without any explanation or legal justification, a January 2021 finding from the U.S. Department of Education that District 65’s policies and procedures violated Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. 

Since 2017, District 65 has openly declared its commitment “to focusing on race as one of the first visible indicators of identity.” Put into practice, the district demands that nearly every policy, teacher training session, and lesson plan focus on racial identity.

The district required its teachers to attend mandatory “antiracist” training that included segregating teachers into racially exclusive affinity groups. The district also required teachers to participate in mandatory privilege walks. At the end of the exercise, the facilitator asks all white people to step forward and concludes, “What you see is white privilege and the color line.” 

District 65 then turned to its students. It divided them into racially exclusive affinity groups, required students to participate in privilege walks, and administered racial surveys with prompts like, “Teachers at Nichols Middle School think you are less smart than you really are because of your race/ethnicity.” The district’s curriculum for pre-K through eighth grade also includes books that reinforce discriminatory messages, such as “Not My Idea: A Book About Whiteness” and includes an anti-racist pledge. 

By vowing to define its teachers and students solely by the color of their skin, District 65 promotes and reinforces a view of race essentialism that divides Americans into groups based solely on their skin color. District 65 teaches its teachers and students that their whole identity comes from the color of their skin. This perpetuates divisive stereotypes that pit teachers and children against each other based on the color of their skin. 

District 65’s practices take its teachers and students further from the truth and reconciliation. Instead, the practices divide them into two worlds: the oppressors and the oppressed. They teach them that their whole identity comes from the color of their skin. They teach them to discriminate against each other. They teach them not only how to be racist, but that they should be racist. And the district does this by treating people differently because of their race. This is illegal, wrong, and must be stopped.

The U.S. Supreme Court has declared, “Classifications of citizens solely on the basis of race are by their very nature odious to a free people whose institutions are founded upon the doctrine of equality. They threaten to stigmatize individuals by reason of their membership in a racial group and to incite racial hostility.” 

Practices, policies and procedures like District 65’s are simply not permitted under the Constitution or federal law. The Constitution demands equality for all individuals without racial preference. Equal protection is a principle purchased at the price of immeasurable human suffering. District 65 has sacrificed equality upon the altar of equity, in violation of the constitutional guarantee of equal protection and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act.

Unfortunately, the facts of the lawsuit against District 65 are not unique. But fortunately, parents and teachers across our country have had enough.

As parents and teachers speak up at school board meetings and as state legislators uphold their oath to the Constitution, strategic lawsuits like the one Southeastern Legal Foundation filed against District 65 must be brought to stop school districts from implementing practices that turn the idea of “equity” into a license to punish Americans because of their skin color. 

Kimberly Hermann is general counsel for Southeastern Legal Foundation, a national constitutional public interest law firm and policy center committed to promoting individual liberty, the rule of law, and accountability in government. 

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