The Washington Post

Top Loudoun School Officials Defend Equity Work Against Charges of ‘Critical Race Theory’

June 2, 2021

(The Washington Post)—Top school officials in Loudoun County are again defending the district’s racial equity work, following complaints from some parents that Loudoun is indoctrinating students with “critical race theory” — allegations that have now spurred a lawsuit.

The controversy dates back to last summer, when angry mothers and fathers began seizing on tidbits — such as the nearly half-million dollars Loudoun spent on an equity consultant, or later, a minutes-long video recording of a classroom in which a teacher discusses critical race theory— to argue that the system is teaching White students to feel ashamed of being White, because their race means they have historically been part of an oppressive system.

Critical race theory is a decades-old academic framework that explores how policies and the law fuel systemic racism. The theory in part declares that racism is the product of systems, not individuals, and therefore interwoven into daily life and history in America.

But some critics have used the term to refer more broadly to efforts to address systemic racism.

At a school board meeting Tuesday, interim superintendent Scott A. Ziegler repeatedly has denied charges that Loudoun is teaching critical race theory to students. Instead, he has explained that the school system is about two years into racial equity work spurred initially by a pair of high-profile reports that found widespread racism was imperiling Black and Hispanic students’ progress in the county. In response, Loudoun produced a 22-page “Plan to Combat Systemic Racism” that called for developing alternative forms of discipline, hosting teacher trainings to foster “racial consciousness” and forbidding students from wearing the Confederate flag.

But no part of the plan involved teaching students critical race theory, Ziegler emphasized repeatedly on Tuesday. At one point, school board chair Brenda Sheridan asked him to address the issue directly.

“When you are asked, ‘Is Loudoun County Public Schools teaching critical race theory?’ ” Sheridan said, “what is the answer?”

“The short answer is that we are not teaching critical race theory to our students,” Ziegler said, calling the theory “a subject for academics.”

He then sought to debunk several pieces of evidence he said parents often point to when they assert that Loudoun teachers are forcing critical race theory onto students. In particular, he referred to what he called a new trend in which people Photoshop the school system’s logo onto resources tied to critical race theory to “imply Loudoun County Public Schools is using those resources.”

Still, some parents remained unconvinced — and on Wednesday, a group of Loudoun families filed a lawsuit intended to kill some of the equity programs Loudoun administrators had explained to the public not 24 hours before. The suit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia on the parents’ behalf by the conservative advocacy group Liberty Justice Center, claims Loudoun has violated the Constitution.

Specifically, the suit takes issue with Loudoun’s “Equity Ambassador Program” and its “Bias Reporting System.” The ambassador program, launched last year, recruits a small group of students from throughout the district to meet regularly with top administrators so they can share anonymous accounts of racial harassment experienced by their peers. The bias reporting system allows students to anonymously report instances of racist behavior by peers and teachers using an online form.

The suit claims the equity ambassador program violates the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment, which guarantees equal treatment before the law, because it is open only to students of color.

Loudoun schools spokesman Wayde Byard said the program is open to students of all races who meet a set of criteria such as having a passion for social justice. He acknowledged that a draft version of an Q&A about the program at one point stipulated that ambassadors must be students of color, but said the draft was “released prematurely” — and that race is no longer a requirement.

The suit also alleges the ambassador program violates the First Amendment, guaranteeing freedom of speech, because the program “discriminates on the basis of viewpoint.” The suit claims the bias reporting system also “chills speech.”

The lawsuit asks for an enjoinment barring the Loudoun school system from operating both initiatives. Byard said Wednesday that the school system does not comment on pending litigation.

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