A federal District Court judge denied a request for an injunction in a class action case on Friday filed by five families against Loudoun County Public Schools over the district’s Student Equity Ambassador Program and the Bias Incident Reporting System, both initiatives of the school district to combat the reported racial inequity in schools.
Pattie Hidalgo-Menders, Scott Mineo, and three other unnamed families alleged that the SEA program discriminates against white students and violates their First Amendment rights, and that the reporting system “chills protected speech in violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendments,” according to the complaint.
Menders has been a vocal critic of alleged influence of Critical Race Theory in LCPS, and is the president of the Loudoun County Republican Women’s Club.
“Culturally responsive training, diversity, equity, whatever you want to call it, they’re all components of Critical Race Theory. That’s exactly what it is—a theory,” Menders said to the School Board during its Aug. 10 meeting.
The complaint was filed June 2 in the Eastern Virginia District Court in Alexandria.
Menders, Mineo, and the other families are represented by the Liberty Justice Center, a conservative nonprofit based in Chicago. The group sought damages for the alleged harm to students caused by having their First Amendment infringed upon, as well as an order that the school district shut down both programs.
The Student Equity Ambassadors Program elevates the concerns about racial equity in schools. Each middle and high school has an ambassador who meets several times a year with the school division’s equity director and the equity supervisor. While there is no requisite race for a student to become an ambassador, the district describes the ambassadors as “a racially diverse group of students with a collective passion for social justice.” The group, Parents Against Critical Race Theory, shared a document from the school district about the program, stating that only students of color may participate. The final iteration of the school’s notice shows that all students may participate in the program regardless of race.
It is unclear from the filing whether any of the plaintiffs’ children wished to participate in the program. Judge Anthony J. Trenga concluded that the case failed to establish that the group was created to discriminate against white students.
The Bias Incident Reporting System allows students and staff to anonymously inform administrators of incidents where they’ve experienced bias or discrimination. A reported incident may be investigated by school administrators.
Menders said that her children are censoring themselves in school because they do not wish to be punished by the reporting system. The plaintiffs also said their children “would like to discuss various views on race relations, gender identity, and other controversial political issues from the premise that ‘everyone is equal and we should strive for a colorblind society.’”
The judge ruled that the bias reporting system discourages free speech no more than LCPS’s current harassment policy does.
“This case is in the very early stages. We look forward to following the roadmap laid out in the judge’s opinion and believe the facts will confirm our arguments,” Daniel Suhr, managing attorney at the Liberty Justice Center, said.
At this point, both sides will continue to gather evidence on the matter. The school district must file an answer to the complaint or a motion to dismiss the case. The school district is represented by Stacy Haney.