Federal lawsuit filed against school district for unconstitutional equity training

August 18, 2021

Springfield, Missouri: Today, Southeastern Legal Foundation (SLF) filed a federal lawsuit in the Western District of Missouri to stop Springfield Public Schools from violating the First Amendment and requiring as a condition of employment that its educators commit to equity, become “anti-racist” educators, and affirm divisive and discriminatory programming that promotes treating individuals differently because of their skin color.

SLF filed suit on behalf of educators who were forced to participate in a district-wide equity training program focused purely on racial identity, white supremacy, and systemic racism. In its lawsuit, SLF asks the court to halt Springfield Public Schools from violating the First Amendment rights of its employees.

In its mandatory equity training, the district demands that all staff become “anti-racist” educators and replace traditional education with race-based programming in the name of equity. 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.

“Public schools are an arm of the government. The check on that power is in the courtroom,” SLF litigation director Braden Boucek explains.  “It is well-settled law that the government cannot discriminate based on viewpoint, cause individuals to self-censor, or force individuals to accept beliefs with which they do not agree. Unfortunately, that is exactly what SPS is doing.”

For example, through its mandatory equity programming, the district requires staff to place themselves on an “oppression matrix” and discuss concepts like white supremacy and systemic racism in group settings. It declares that colorblindness is a form of white supremacy and demands that district teachers and staff explain how they will “debunk” alleged myths that white people allegedly tell. It forces staff to disclose personal information about their identities, personal viewpoints, and vulnerabilities with supervisors and peers. And the district has even handed out “agree” and “disagree” signs to staff to hold up during the training when the trainer reads statements aloud declaring the district’s commitment to equity — with explicit instructions not to disagree with what the district says.

Even worse, the district expects staff to pass what they learn in the training on to their students.

“Through its mandatory training, Springfield Public Schools requires its teachers and staff to pledge allegiance to becoming a so-called ‘anti-racist educator.’ But make no mistake about it, the district’s training take its educators and ultimately its students further from the truth and reconciliation,” SLF general counsel Kimberly Hermann warns. “Instead, it divides individuals into two worlds: the oppressors and the oppressed. It teaches that a person’s whole identity comes from the color of their skin. And it teaches not only how to be racist, but that they should be racist. This is illegal, wrong, and must be stopped.”

For decades, colorblindness was the rallying cry for the Civil Rights Movement. Now, we have districts like Springfield openly proclaiming that colorblindness is actually a form of white supremacy. The district is simultaneously telling educators what to believe while also scaring them into silence. This cannot and will not stand under the First Amendment.

Read more about the case here.