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Hearing in Albemarle anti-racism lawsuit set for Friday

An Albemarle County Circuit Court judge will hear arguments Friday on motion that would block the county school division’s anti-racism policy.

The Alliance for Defending Freedom, a national legal nonprofit based in Arizona, sued the school system in December 2021 on behalf of a group of parents who alleged that the board’s anti-racism policy discriminates against students and creates a culture of hostility.

In early February, the plaintiffs formally filed a motion for temporary injunction. Lawyers for both sides have traded several briefs and motions and the parents also filed an appendix of nearly 800 pages to support their claims.

“They have already been harmed by the policy and will experience ongoing harm if policy implementation continues,” parents’ attorneys wrote in the motion to be heard Friday. “Plaintiffs have experienced impermissible racial and religious hostility, pressure to affirm and embrace the policy as truth, and interference with their parental rights because of the policy.”

The plaintiffs also want the court to order the school system to give them notice and opportunity to review and the option to opt out without penalty from any instruction that “inculcates racial stereotypes, engages in disparate treatment based on race, or is hostile or discriminatory toward religion.”

The school division wants the lawsuit dismissed, arguing in court filings that the plaintiffs didn’t state sufficient facts to support their six claims, failed to show how they were harmed by the policy’s implementation and challenged the underlying assumptions driving the initial complaint.

Those motions also will be heard during Friday’s hearing.

Richmond-based attorneys from Harman, Claytor, Corrigan and Wellman are representing the School Board and division.

The School Board adopted its anti-racism policy in 2019. Officials said the policy was intended to improve academic outcomes for students who historically lag behind more affluent white students.

Implementation of the policy includes staff training, examining bias in curriculum and changing how students are recommended for advanced classes.

In the initial complaint, the plaintiffs claim the school division violated their civil rights, including freedom of speech and freedom from religious and viewpoint discrimination by the policy.

They cite anti-racism lessons piloted at a county middle school, book purchases and training for teachers, among examples.

In the lawsuit’s early stages, state law requires judges to view legal matters in a light most favorable to the plaintiffs and assume alleged facts are correct. In filings arguing for the dismissal and against the injunction, the school board’s attorneys have said even if the facts are accepted as true, there was no discrimination or constitutional violations.

“The complaint establishes no more than plaintiffs’ general objections to a policy by which they have been affected — if at all — in the exact same way as every other student enrolled in [county schools],” the school board’s attorneys wrote in a brief opposing the injunction.

Attorneys Jeremy Capps and Blaire O’Brien wrote in that brief that the injunction request was extraordinary.

“Plaintiffs’ requested relief is extraordinary not merely for its foundation in equity but also for its novelty,” they wrote. “No Virginia court has enjoined — on constitutional grounds or otherwise — a local school board’s curricular decisions. To do so would violate the Supreme Court of Virginia’s instruction that a court not ‘substitute its judgment for that of the public body.’”

The parents’ attorneys said in a reply brief that statement was a “broad and patently absurd proposition.”

In the opposition brief, the schools’ attorneys reiterated several of the arguments used in previous filings arguing for the case’s dismissal.

“Plaintiffs seek no concrete relief for which a clear and enforceable injunction could be entered, because plaintiffs identify no concrete harm they have experienced as a result of the Anti-Racism Policy,” they wrote.

The attorneys argue that the parents are selectively relying on training materials and secondary sources never presented to students and are constructing “an ideology, attribute that ideology to the School Board, and ask the court to engage in the academic exercise of evaluating whether that ideology is inconsistent with constitutional principles.”

The brief also included two sworn affidavits from Henley principal Beth Costa and Jesse Turner, the division’s director of student services, who addressed issues raised in the plaintiffs’ filings.

Costa said that the pilot program highlighted in the complaint was voluntary and graded. About 20 to 25 students optioned out of participating and there were no plans to offer a similar curriculum in the current semester.

Turner wrote that no student has been disciplined under the anti-racism policy, according to his review student records.

The parents’ attorneys argued that even though students have not been punished for disagreeing with the policy or curriculum, that doesn’t mean students won’t face discipline.

“Regardless of whether any student has been punished yet, the policy’s language expressly authorizes such future punishment,” they wrote.

According to the policy, a student who commits a racist act “will be provided the opportunity to learn about the impact of their actions on others through such practices as restorative justice, mediation, role play or other explicit policies or training resources.”

The parents’ attorneys also disputed the defense’s contention that the plaintiffs have not experienced concrete harm. They said one of the students involved in the lawsuit was told “she was oppressed by white students as a Latina, but also that she is part of the “dominant culture” as a Christian.”

Attorneys said in the brief that another student in the lawsuit was cyber-bullied after he expressed his Catholic beliefs.

Source: www.dailyprogress.com

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