Springfield Public Schools was recently hit with a lawsuit over its mandatory equity and anti-racism training.
A federal lawsuit was filed earlier this week against Springfield Public Schools over claims that the First Amendment rights of two employees were violated “during a professional development session on equity and racism.” The employees are Brooke Henderson and Jennifer Lumley. Henderson works as a compliance coordinator and is tasked with ensuring “students with disabilities receive benefits and services” and Lumley is a records secretary.
According to the suit, Henderson and Lumley claim the “mandatory district-wide staff training demanded they commit to equity and become anti-racist educators.” They’re being represented by Kimberly Hermann, an attorney with Southeastern Legal Foundation, a nonprofit organization. The suit itself was filed in the Southern Division of the U.S. District Court in Western Missouri. The complaint states:
“Public schools are an arm of the government…The First Amendment makes clear 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.”
The suit further claims that “terms equity… social justice, diversity, and inclusion… culturally responsive teaching are 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.” On top of that, the complaint claims:
“Equity is very different from equality. Equity is about so-called fairness. Equality is the principle proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence, defended in the Civil War, and codified into law with the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the Constitution, the Civil Rights Acts of 1964, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Equality strives for equal opportunity and colorblind treatment under the law, while equity in practice is an official license to punish individuals based on skin color.”
When commenting on the suit, Hermann said:
“The First Amendment violation is that the district is requiring as a condition of employment that its educators commit to equity, to become anti-racist educators, and affirm the divisive and discriminatory programming…The teachers and the educators are told to take and implement it in the classroom, which then would violate their student’s equal protection rights and civil rights. So, in terms of where the First Amendment violation lies, it lies in the district compelling speech and discriminating against these educator’s viewpoints.”
Stephen Hall, the chief communications officer for Springfield Public Schools, pushed back against the allegations and said, “The legal action filed by Ms. Henderson and Ms. Lumley is a serious distraction that consumes time and resources better focused on children.”
“This effort is part of a misinformation campaign designed to undermine our district’s pursuit of equity for all…Springfield Public Schools is prepared to vigorously defend our efforts to honor and respect the identities and lived experiences of all students and staff. We are confident that the court will ultimately determine the lawsuit is frivolous and without merit.”