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Albemarle parents appeal court decision against challenge of county anti-racism program

An Arizona nonprofit representing a group of Albemarle County parents has filed an appeal of a county court ruling that dismissed a lawsuit challenging the county school division’s anti-racism program.

The Alliance Defending Freedom on Thursday filed with the Virginia Court of Appeals in the Ibañez v. Albemarle County School Board.

The alliance last year filed the lawsuit on behalf of five families who claim the school division violated their civil rights, including freedom of speech and freedom from religious and viewpoint discrimination, when it implemented the anti-racism policy it adopted in 2019. The families’ children attend schools in the county district’s western feeder pattern.

The lawsuit alleged that the school division’s anti-racism policy discriminated against students and created a culture of hostility in schools.

Circuit Judge Claude Worrell dismissed the case with prejudice in April, meaning that the complaints can’t be refiled in the circuit court. Worrell said his order was in line with how he would rule during the case.

In the appeal, the attorneys for the families ask the Court of Appeals to grant a preliminary injunctions “pressing pause on in-classroom practices implemented under the policy.” They also claim that the policy overtly discriminates based on race and religion, compels speech from one viewpoint and violates parents’ fundamental right to direct their children’s education and upbringing.

“Parents have the fundamental right to know what their kids are being taught in public schools and to protect them from policies and curriculum that compel them to accept harmful ideologies,” said ADF senior counsel Kate Anderson, in a prepared statement.

“Public schools can’t demean or divide students based on their race, religion, or ethnicity, but that is exactly what the Albemarle County School Board is doing. We urge the court to take a hard look at the school board’s discriminatory policy and consider these families’ challenge to it,” Anderson said.

School officials had not seen the filing on Friday.

The school board in April argued the lawsuit should be dismissed because the plaintiffs lack standing to sue and failed to show how they were discriminated against or harmed. Additionally, the provisions of the Constitution of Virginia that the plaintiffs allege the School Board violated cannot be enforced without an underlying statute, according to the School Board’s attorneys.

At the April hearing, Worrell agreed. He said that although the policy in question is not perfect, the case laid out in the lawsuit was not strong enough to continue.

“The law doesn’t support you,” he told the attorneys representing the plaintiffs.

Worrell ruled that the plaintiffs who filed the lawsuit lacked standing to bring their claims to court and didn’t state a cause of action under Virginia law that allowed them to bring the case to court. The plaintiffs’ objected to the order, according to the filing.

The complaint was largely based on anti-racism lessons piloted at Henley Middle School that focused on bias, race, identity, culture and empathy through readings, activities and question prompts.


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