Is anti-racist education racist? Experts see echoes of segregation in latest trial | Education

With the state embroiled in a controversy over systemic racism in schools, a lawsuit against Albemarle County Public Schools could turn the area into a battleground.

The lawsuit takes aim at Albemarle County Schools’ plan to eliminate racism and close long-standing achievement gaps between groups of students. Five Albemarle families allege the division’s anti-racism policy discriminates against students and creates a culture of hostility in schools. The complaint comes as Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s administration focuses more critically on the steps school divisions have taken to address inequities.

Several legal and education scholars said they viewed the lawsuit as part of a larger national movement against critical race theory, which opponents have used to describe explicit discussions and lessons about the race. systemic racism. This movement, they said, was a response to 2020 protests against racial injustice and efforts to advance racial equality. They also see ties to the state-sanctioned effort to block integration, known as Massive Resistance.

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“[In Virginia], we’ve seen this movie before,” said Jamel K. Donnor, associate professor of education at William & Mary. “When there’s progress, when there’s socio-cultural racial change, there’s this backsliding and there’s this backlash from those who have a vested interest in the status quo at the expense of those who have been historically and traditionally excluded or subordinated.”

In Virginia, pressure against teaching racial inequality has taken center stage in the recent gubernatorial race and has been at the center of the Youngkin administration, which has sought to ban the teaching of “inherently divisive concepts.” .

There is a difference between critical race theory and anti-racist education, say educators. The way opponents have portrayed critical race theory is wrong, said Janel George, director of the Clinic for Racial Equity in Education Law and Policy at Georgetown University.

“There’s been this confusion of critical race theory as being associated with anything about race,” she said.

George said critical race theory is a legal theory and approach to examining the role of law in promoting racial inequality. George has studied the potential of legislative interventions to eradicate racial inequalities in education.

“It’s not a discrete body of thought, if you will. It’s an approach,” she said, adding that it usually takes graduate students a semester to understand the basics of the theory. “It’s deliberately complex.”

Albemarle County schools have said critical race theory is not part of their curriculum, a claim disputed by Ryan Bangert, senior attorney and vice president of legal strategy for the Alliance for Defending Freedom, which represents the families in the trial.

Parents began publicly denouncing the division’s anti-racism policy for its alleged connection to critical race theory late last school year. Those arguments culminated in the lawsuit filed last month, which cited anti-racism classes piloted at a county college, book purchases and teacher training, among other examples.

“The principle on which the lawsuit really rests is that our public schools should never promote divisions based on race,” Bangert said. “Unfortunately, that’s what the school system does.”

The lawsuit is one of many filed across the country challenging lessons about racism and efforts to advance racial equity in public schools.

The Arizona-based Liberty Defense Alliance is a national nonprofit organization that seeks to defend religious freedom and parental rights, among other things, according to its website. In Virginia, the ADF has been involved in lawsuits over a teacher’s First Amendment rights and challenged Virginia law that prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

The parents suing the Albemarle County District are Carlos and Tatiana Ibañez, Matthew and Marie Mierzejewski, Kemal and Margaret Gokturk, Erin and Trent D. Taliaferro, and Melissa Riley. Their children were only identified by initials. Through ADF, they declined to comment.

Other parents who spoke at recent school board meetings and weighed in in an open letter said the anti-racism pledge shouldn’t be negotiable.

“This policy was developed by CSPA students, and we endorse their valuable work and are disgusted by the trial’s downgrading of this historic policy,” said Amanda Moxham, a parent of Albemarle and member of the Hate -Free Schools Coalition of Albemarle County.

The school division was officially served with the lawsuit earlier this month. The division has yet to file a response to the lawsuit and no hearing has been scheduled, according to county court records.

“Answering these cases in public rather than in the courtroom serves no purpose,” said Phil Giaramita, spokesperson for Albemarle County Schools.

A plan to improve

The policy at the center of the Albemarle lawsuit was adopted in 2019 as a way to improve academic outcomes for students who have historically lagged behind their white and more affluent peers.

The policy, which was written by students, divided this task into five categories — political communication; management and administration; Curriculum and Education; vocational learning and training; and policy enforcement. Division staff have identified 27 different things to do in these categories and have been working to implement the various provisions since late 2019. Some of these tasks include examining biases in the curriculum, alternative disciplines curricula and changing the way students are recommended for advanced courses.

George said Albemarle County’s anti-racism policy is commendable in that students have written the document, particularly in their demand for curricula and educational materials that reflect cultural and racial diversity.

“The data shows that students who are able to see themselves reflected in the curriculum, to see their culture reflected in the curriculum, perform better,” George said. “So in thinking about what contributes to inequality and outcomes, part of it is the exclusion of stories and stories of people of color.”

Mary Bauer, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union-Virginia, said lawsuits such as the one filed against Albemarle County Public Schools and the broader campaign do a disservice to students.

“It’s part of this larger trend of censorship in schools,” Bauer said. “We believe students have a right to learn and talk about race and to receive an accurate and inclusive education, and lawsuits like this are ill-conceived and truly do a disservice to children of all kinds.”

Youngkin’s first executive order after taking office in January banned the teaching of “inherently divisive concepts, including critical race theory.” He then created an email address, [email protected], where families could share advice regarding inherent divisive practices in schools. This email address has been lambasted by state education groups, including the Virginia Education Association, who have called it a divisive distraction designed to intimidate educators.

A state Senate bill that would have codified that order into state law was killed in committee this week. Meanwhile, House Bill 781, sponsored by Del. Wren Williams, R-Stuart, would eliminate jobs as directors of equity or diversity in schools, and the teaching of “divisional” concepts such as “capitalism, free markets, free industry and other related economic systems are inherently racist,” among other provisions. No hearing has been scheduled on this bill.

The New Massive Resistance

George said the trial and the moves to restrict alleged teaching of Critical Race Theory mirror the tactics used to block school integration in the 1950s.

In 1956, following the United States Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Board of Education, Virginia lawmakers moved to cut funding for integrated school systems. Governor Thomas B. Stanley closed schools for five months, including two in Charlottesville, to prevent integration. The set of laws known as Massive Resistance was passed in 1956 and declared unconstitutional in 1959.

“Virginia has been the battleground,” George said.

George recently wrote that a direct line can be drawn from Massive Resistance to current anti-racial equity education efforts.

“This focus on critical race theory is new, but it’s some of the same old tactics that have been invoked before,” George said. “I know that sounds dramatic, but it’s the maintenance of white supremacy.”

Bills banning critical race theory and teaching about race would nullify district funding and penalize teachers, two tactics used during Massive Resistance, George said. Virginia House bill would make violation of its provisions a Class 4 misdemeanor

“That’s why the law is important,” George said. “They use the legal system to run these campaigns and use the school system to be the site of these campaigns.”

For George, what’s at stake is the future of America’s public education system.

“If we don’t prepare students who can think critically, who can identify with people from different backgrounds than themselves, who can decide for themselves what is right or wrong, I really fear that we are betraying the purpose of public education,” she said.

Bauer, with the ACLU, echoed that.

“What does it do for these children to say, we don’t even want them to hear this and we don’t want them to have to struggle with painful lessons from our history,” he said. she declared. “Where does that leave us as a society of children who can’t learn from real stories?”

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