The story in Loudoun County, Virginia begins in 2019 when the school board retained the Equity Collaborative as a consultant to assess campus climate. The consultant found that there were limited opportunities in the Loudoun County Public Schools for “Black/African-American and Muslim students to convene in a network of social and cultural support.” Equity Collaborative recommended that the school create “student affinity groups at all levels to support the social and cultural identities of students of color.”
About a year later the district published its “Action Plans to Combat Systemic Racism.” The plan included the Student Equity Ambassador Program, which would consist of two or three students from each middle and high school to serve as “Student Equity Ambassadors.” The Ambassadors would participate in district-wide “Share, Speak-Up, Speak-out” meetings where the students would discuss issues of race and equity.
Are you surprised to hear that some parents were unhappy about this? Are you surprised that there was a lawsuit? I didn’t think you would be.
The parents who sued alleged that the program violated their children’s rights to Equal Protection and Free Speech. The school district moved for a dismissal of the case, arguing that the parents and the students lacked standing to sue over this program. The matter went to the Circuit Court which agreed with the school as to one part of the suit, but disagreed on the other. So the case will continue.
The parents alleged that the Ambassador program discriminated on the basis of race and viewpoint. The original criteria for being an Ambassador did, in fact, limit membership to “students of color.” The school dropped that factor, but still said that those chosen to be Ambassadors “will be responsible for amplifying the voice of Students of Color by engaging in discussions about student stories/experiences regarding issues of racism, injustice and inequity.” Student Ambassadors would have to “have a passion for social justice.” The parents alleged that the criteria for Ambassador status discriminated in favor of students of color, and against those who lacked a “passion for social justice,” as defined by this program.
It would have been interesting to see a court ruling on the merits, but that’s not what we have. Instead, the court held that the parents did not have standing to make these claims for the simple reason that their children had neither applied to be Ambassadors, nor expressed interest in serving in that capacity. Thus the court lacked jurisdiction to address the issues raised.
The parents were more successful in their challenge to a particular component of the program. We’ll tell you about that tomorrow. This very interesting case is Menders v. Loudoun County School Board, decided by the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals on April 14, 2023. The case is cited at 2023 WL 293607.
DAWG BONE: IF YOU DIDN’T APPLY, YOU CAN’T COMPLAIN.
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Tomorrow: the rest of the story….