Parents sue Loudoun County schools over equity programs

Equity programs implemented by the Loudoun County public school system in Virginia have been controversial in the community, and they led to a lawsuit this week as a group of parents argue the programs are unconstitutional.

The suit was filed Wednesday in federal court against the Loudoun County School Board. It alleges that school leaders are violating students’ free speech rights by expecting them “to speak, act, and think in line with a particular ideology,” describing it as “controversial and radical political theory.”

“It is the speech police for students,” said attorney Daniel Suhr with the Liberty Justice Center, a conservative advocacy group that is leading the lawsuit.

The lawsuit aims to do away with the school system’s “Student Equity Ambassador Program” and “Bias Reporting System,” both of which encourage students to observe and discuss incidents of racist behavior in their school communities.

Under the ambassador program, schools select a handful of students who meet with principals and other school leaders to discuss such incidents, while the reporting system urges students to anonymously report observations using a form online.

According to the lawsuit, the ambassador program discriminates against students in several ways. For example, it claims that when schools choose students for ambassador positions, they favor only students of color and those who have a passion for “social justice.”

“In order to become an equity ambassador, you have to subscribe to this radical ideology that the school district is trying to impose on students,” Suhr said. “All of that is not only wrong, it’s unconstitutional.”

Suhr claimed the bias reporting system chills free speech.

“Parents are really worried that their students will go to school fearful every day that a comment they make to a classmate is going to lead to an investigation by the speech police,” Suhr said. “Parents are upset and concerned about what that means for their kids and their standing in school.”

The lawsuit is connected to complaints from parents in the community who accuse the school system of teaching “critical race theory,” which is an academic framework based on the belief that racism is a fundamental part of American society.

Interim superintendent Scott Ziegler denied that during a Tuesday school board meeting.

“We are not teaching critical race theory to our students,” Ziegler said. “The school division’s work on equity has been widely misrepresented and misinterpreted.”

In a lengthy posting on the school system’s website, Ziegler went further.

“They are not an effort to indoctrinate students and staff into a particular philosophy or theory,” Ziegler said of the equity programs. “What they are is an effort to provide a welcoming, inclusive, affirming environment for all students.

“Social media rumors that staff members have been disciplined or fired for not adhering to the tenets of critical race theory or for refusing to teach this theory are not true,” he added.

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Nick Iannelli

Nick Iannelli can be heard covering developing and breaking news stories on WTOP.

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