In the fall of 2020, Springfield Public Schools (SPS) held a mandatory “equity” training for all of its employees. The training was textbook “anti-racism,” which the district defines as having a proactive element to advocate for social, political, and economic change. In August 2021, Brooke Henderson and Jennifer Lumley, two educators in SPS, bravely stepped forward and with the help of Southeastern Legal Foundation (SLF) filed the first-in-the-nation lawsuit against the mandatory district-wide training.
In the lawsuit, Ms. Henderson and Ms. Lumley alleged that the training violated the First Amendment because it compelled their speech and discriminated against their views that America should be colorblind. They also alleged that the district conditioned their employment on their commitment to equity, becoming anti-racist educators, and affirming divisive and discriminatory programming that promotes treating individuals differently based on skin color. Ms. Henderson and Ms. Lumley sought only a court order stopping SPS from violating the Constitution and a mere $1 in damages.
The challenged training was textbook anti-racism. In fact, Ms. Henderson and Ms. Lumley were told they needed to commit to anti-racism, which had a “proactive” element to advocate for political and social change. The training further taught that colorblindness and “white silence” were tools of white supremacy, “white people” were privileged, and that equality was harmful.
What seems like a relatively benign cause – also called “critical race theory” and “culturally responsive teaching” – is actually code-speak for a much bigger and more dangerous picture: the practice of conditioning individuals to see each other’s skin color first and foremost, then pitting different racial groups against each other.
The district’s promotion and reinforcement of race essentialism is not only dangerous, but also unconstitutional. The First Amendment makes clear that the government cannot discriminate based on viewpoint, cause individual to self-censor, or force individuals to accept beliefs with which they do not agree. Unfortunately, that is exactly what SPS did.
The training session began with instructions to “stay engaged,” “speak your truth,” and “acknowledge YOUR privileges.” It featured a slideshow and a series of videos, including the death of George Floyd and cartoons about “systemic racism” and “understanding white supremacy” that asserted our nation was founded on white supremacy. They were told “systems of oppression were “woven” into the “very foundation of America,” and that white supremacy is a “highly descriptive term for the culture we live in.”
In its training, SPS utilized an “Oppression Matrix,” which taught that the following groups are oppressed: “Asian, Black, Latina/o, Native People,” and “Female[s] assigned at birth.” It categorized white people and males assigned at birth as the privileged social group under the categories of racism and sexism.
The District also taught about what it called “Covert/Overt White Supremacy,” and explained that “white silence,” “colorblindness,” “BIPOC [Black, Indigenous, People of Color] as Halloween Costumes,” and “all lives matter” constitute white supremacy.
Slide after slide, image after image, SPS promoted a view of race essentialism that divides Americans into oppressor and oppressed based solely on their skin color. SPS set up a dichotomy between white and non-white races that depicts whiteness as inherently racist and a tool of oppression.
At various points, trainees were directed to break into small groups to discuss before being asked return to a larger group discussion. Ms. Henderson and Ms. Lumley were reminded that if they did not speak, they would be called upon, so they both spoke out in small and large group sessions. When they expressed their disagreements, the District told them their views were wrong.
As a result of the District shaming and rejecting their views, they both self-censored. The training closed with an “anti-racist solo write” where trainees were read anti-racist statements and instructed to write out what steps they would take to become an anti-racist.