An Albemarle County Circuit Court judge has officially dismissed a lawsuit against the county school division’s anti-racism program in an order filed last week.
Judge Claude Worrell dismissed the case with prejudice, meaning that the complaints can’t be refiled in the circuit court. The order is in line with how Worrell said he would rule during an April hearing in the case. The lawsuit alleged that the school division’s anti-racism policy discriminated against students and created a culture of hostility in schools.
At the hearing, Worrell 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.
Filed in December, five families claimed 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, whose children attend schools in the western feeder pattern, are represented by the Alliance Defending Freedom, an Arizona-based nonprofit.
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. ADF also is representing a former Albemarle employee who is suing the school system for alleged retaliation and harassment she experienced after complaining about an anti-racism training.
More recently, ADF sued the Harrisonburg City Public Schools over its policy outlining the rights of transgender and gender-expansive students.
Since the April hearing, a few of the plaintiffs have spoken out about the policy in interviews with the NY Post and in appearances on Fox News. The parents suing the Albemarle County district are Carlos and Tatiana Ibañez, Matthew and Marie Mierzejewski, Kemal and Margaret Gokturk, Erin and Trent D. Taliaferro and Melissa Riley. Their children were identified only by initials.
Riley said on Fox News about her son who is an eighth-grader at Henley Middle School, started having racial issues after the Henley lessons.
“He’s seeing himself just as a Black man,” Riley said on Fox News about her son. “He’s seeing things that don’t go his way as racism and he is finding safety in numbers now.”
She added that the lessons changed his perspective. When she asked her son to clean the house or do chores, her son would claim racism, she said.
“He’s using it as an excuse because they told him that’s how people see him, that as a Black man, the world is against him now,” she told Jesse Watters.
ADF said Tuesday that the ruling was disappointing and promised to appeal it.
“Every student deserves to be treated equally under the law, regardless of their race, ethnicity, or religion,” Alliance Defending Freedom Senior Counsel Kate Anderson said in a statement. “Public schools cannot attack or demean students based on these or any other characteristics. We look forward to continuing to represent these parents and students as they stand up against a school district that continues to ignore their legitimate interests and legal rights.”
Richmond-based attorneys from Harman, Claytor, Corrigan and Wellman are representing the School Board and division.
The School Board has 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.
The schools attorneys outlined their positions in several motions filed in January, including a 16-page demurrer, which is similar to a federal motion to dismiss.
Worrell agreed with that position, sustaining the defendant’s plea in bar, a motion that sought to bar the complaint in its entirety, and part of the demurrer that disputed the plaintiff’s claim that parents have a fundamental right to control their child’s education under the Constitution of Virginia.
Worrell didn’t rule on the other motions in the case, which he said were no longer relevant after the dismissal.