The Center Square

Court: Virginia Parents’ Lawsuit Can Continue Against Loudoun Schools over Bias Incident Reporting Form

April 17, 2023

(Center Square)—The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit reversed the dismissal of a lawsuit made by Loudoun County, Virginia, parents against their public school system over a bias reporting system, which they argue could chill their children’s freedom of speech.

The appeals court overturned a lower court decision to dismiss the lawsuit Friday, saying that the case against Loudoun County Public Schools’ based on student’s First Amendment rights could continue in federal court.

“Schools are supposed to educate children,” Jacob Huebert, president of the Liberty Justice Center, which represents the parents in the case, said in a statement on Monday. “Instead, schools in Loudoun County and too many other places are focused on indoctrination and discrimination.”

“Students should be able to speak their minds and share their opinions without fear of retaliation from school officials,” Huebert said.

In 2019, Loudoun County Public Schools hired a consultant to assess the school’s climate and implemented its recommendations to create social opportunities for students of color and religious minorities through a “Student Equity Ambassador Program,” according to the Court of Appeals’ ruling.

In the original lawsuit filed in June 2021, the parents claimed their children were denied from taking part in the ambassador program based on the requirements to apply, but the appeals court agreed with the lower court that children suffered no injury.

But part of the program also allowed students to report their peers for bias incidents, according to the ruling.

The “Share, Speak Up, Speak Out: Bias Reporting Form” allowed students to anonymously report incidents under the following categories: “Harassment or Intimidation,” “Racial Slur,” “Offensive Language, Teasing or Taunting Language/Verbal Exchange,” “Exclusion or victim of lack of inclusivity,” “Gender Identity and Expression,” “Ability Status,” “Religious Practices” and “Sexual Orientation.”

The appeals court ruled that it wasn’t necessary for there to be any disciplinary action or incidents reported for the reporting form to chill free speech about political topics like critical race theory, race or gender identity.

The appeals court said that parents have standing to allege that the “bias reporting system caused the parents’ children to experience a non-speculative and objectively reasonable chilling effect on their speech.”

The reporting form was part of the school district’s broader, detailed plan to address what it says is systemic racism. Other objectives in the plan included changing the high school mascot from the “Raiders,” codifying disciplinary procedures for racial slurs by employees, implementing diversity goals and reducing racial disparities in discipline.

According to school documents from November 2020, the school intended to “create an electronic form for LCPS students to anonymously share their stories regarding issues of racism, injustice and inequity.”

The form, according to the same document, “may inform, not supersede, LCPS policies or protocols for addressing racial incidents.”