By Kendall Tietz
Two employees of Missouri’s largest school district filed a complaint Wednesday against their government employer, alleging they were forced to affirm and promote an ideology with which they disagree.
Springfield Public Schools (SPS) employees Brooke Henderson and Jennifer Lumley claim that while the First Amendment protects public school employees from viewpoint discrimination, the school district “forces teachers and staff to affirm views they do not support, to disclose personal details that they wish to keep private, and to self-censor on matters of public interest,” according to the complaint.
SPS warns staff to “be professional” and “stay engaged” during equity training or they would be asked to leave and receive no credit, according to the complaint. This district-wide staff training program “demands that its staff ‘commit’ to equity and become ‘anti-racist educators.’”
All SPS staff either undergo “‘equity training’ to learn about oppression, white supremacy and systemic racism” or face pay reductions, the complaint states. Henderson works as an advocate for students with disabilities and Lumley is a secretary.
The equity training program materials define white supremacy as “the all-encompassing centrality and assumed superiority of people defined and perceived as white,” referring to an article by Robin DiAngelo, a progressive academicwho wrote such books as “White Fragility” and “Nice Racism.” The complaint also states that SPS requires staff to discuss the “Oppression Matrix” and to identify their personal location on the chart.
In the complaint, the plaintiffs highlight a line from a dissenting opinion in the Supreme Court case Plessy v. Ferguson that became a “rallying cry” of the civil rights movement: “Our Constitution is color-blind, and neither knows nor tolerates classes among citizens.”
Henderson and Lumley claim that “equity” is “code-speak” for “the practice of conditioning individuals to see each other’s skin color first and foremost, then pitting different racial groups against each other,” according to the complaint. They also highlight the difference between equity and equality.
Equality, they said, “strives for equal opportunity and colorblind treatment under the law,” being “the principle proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence, defended in the Civil War, and codified into law with the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to Constitution, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.”
Equity, according to the complaint, is “about so-called fairness,” but actually gives “license to punish individuals based on skin color.”
SPS’s equity training materials explain that “only white people could be racist” and that colorblindness, along with “mass incarceration” and “racial profiling,” are actually forms of white supremacy, according to a graphic included in the complaint.
“SPS puts its staff in the no-win situation of wondering if they should say what they really think (at the risk of being asked to leave), repeat what they think the district wants to hear (in conflict with their own beliefs), or not speak at all (at the risk of being labeled a white supremacist),” the complaint states.
SPS said the equity and diversity initiative is an effort to create “an inclusive, equitable, accessible and affirming learning and working environment for all students and staff” where staff must be held “accountable in this work,” according to the complaint.
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