Lawsuit filed against Board of Ed in Virginia exposes risk to Westport schools
A lawsuit was recently filed by Virginia parents against the Albemarle County School Board for following policies and engaging in practices that are strikingly similar to those contemplated (and in many cases already implemented) by the Westport public school system. The lawsuit is filed by several families with children in the school district who cover a wide span of racial and cultural backgrounds. These plaintiffs allege significant personal, psychological and financial harm to the students and their families, who were negatively affected by these illegal policies and practices. They further seek to enjoin these policies and practices and seek compensatory damages.
We urge members of the Board of Education to review this lawsuit and instruct its legal counsel to do the same. The policies and practices asserted to be unlawful by the plaintiffs revolve around the Albemarle schools’ decision to implement an “Anti-Racism Policy.” Despite its name, this policy actually calls for a wide range of racist and discriminatory behavior that, according to the plaintiffs, violates a number of their civil and Constitutional rights. Westport schools have of course openly committed to new “anti-racist” policies in the mold of what is described in the lawsuit (relying for example on the terminology and interpretive frameworks of Critical Race Theory scholars like Ibram X. Kendi who are mentioned repeatedly in the Virginia suit). Per the lawsuit, the Albemarle school district’s use of the construct of racial equity further implicates the district in multiple violations of its pupils’ legal and civil rights:
The Policy also proclaims the existence of “equity gaps” (described earlier in the Policy as “significant disparities between racial groups”) which are blamed on “inequitable access to opportunities that have significant intergenerational effects and perpetuate economic, social, and educational inequity.”
We understand the Administration in Westport anticipates releasing documents associated with an equity study that was conducted within the district by the NYU Metro Center in a matter of weeks. As we have warned the community extensively, the vendor chosen to conduct the equity study is defined by its commitment to anti-racism and racial equity as manifestations of its ideological adherence to Critical Race Theory. We are concerned that Westport’s connection to such an organization needlessly introduces legal and financial risks to the Town that members of the Board of Education have a duty to avoid.
Whether or not the plaintiffs’ arguments are ultimately meritorious, the arguments as presented are persuasive and the litigants highly sophisticated as confirmed by our own network of attorneys and legal experts. We believe the prudent course for Westport schools at this juncture is to delay taking any further steps in the direction of a policy that has essential elements of the policy that will be litigated in Virginia. Given the national importance, it is very conceivable this case will make its way to the U.S. Supreme Court, whose conservative majority is led by Clarence Thomas.
We recommend the following action steps in response to filing of the lawsuit:
- Review lawsuit and retain counsel to review lawsuit.
- Initiate a process to discuss and decide next steps.
- Suspend all activity related to the equity study and consulting work with the NYU Metro Center.
- Do not formally introduce and endorse the equity study documents by releasing them to the public; for the time being, keep the documents confidential as they are now.
- Examine recent changes to the curriculum and teaching practices that have already been made that further the improper social goals described in the lawsuit.
- Delay implementation of any new educational framework that focuses on racial justice and equity until appropriate legal boundaries and standards are defined by the courts.
Our students are in the process of exiting a traumatic and disruptive educational experience as a result of the pandemic. We need all resources, especially social/emotional resources, focused on the psychological and academic difficulties our students are now facing. We do not need to invite lawsuits by implementing controversial policies that potentially violate the rights of the public. These lawsuits will be costly and time-consuming to defend, may result in significant monetary damages and could bring reputational harm to our school system. It is also foolish to commit resources to any new policy path or pedagogical framework that we may be legally required to alter or terminate entirely in a matter of months or years.
We understand that individuals and community members involved in the school system who have championed anti-racist and equity initiatives have done so with good intentions. Just as we have had only the best of intentions expressing our own ethical misgivings about these initiatives, which align closely with the serious problems identified in the Virginia lawsuit. This debate has become a major national controversy that transcends our small town and appears destined for judicial review.
The rational stance for the Westport Board of Education to take at this moment is to hit the pause button, study the rapidly evolving legal landscape, and delay further movement of its equity agenda until the Board can be confident with regard to legally acceptable parameters. Do not waste precious Town resources on changes that may create legal problems and may have to be unwound in a costly manner. Regardless of one’s own ideological inclinations or political beliefs, Board members must act in the best interest of the public. The public interest is clearly not served by plunging Westport schools into legal controversy. Long after the NYU Metro Center departs for its next consulting assignment, Westport students, parents and taxpayers will be left to bear the brunt of the financial and reputational consequences of their work.