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Virginia parents sue county school district, claim student bias report system unconstitutional

Suit against the Loudoun County School Board claims bias reporting system violates the First Amendment right to free speech.

Updated: June 4, 2021 - 6:28pm

Parents have filed a federal lawsuit against the Loudoun County School Board for a bias report system, which they claim violates the First Amendment right to free speech.

The school board approved a system that allows students to report incidents of bias, which the school system will investigate if requested by the student filing the report. A bias incident could include harassment, the use of a racial slur, a verbal exchange, exclusion from activity or bias against a person’s gender identity, sexual orientation, religious practices or ability status.

An incident will be considered bias if it is an act of discrimination, harassment or intimidation motivated by prejudice or bias directed at a person or a group. The bias reporting system does not explicitly limit bias reporting to in-school activities and the plaintiffs worry this could affect other in-person interactions, social media posts or text messages.

At this time, it’s unclear how broadly the school system will define an action of bias or discrimination, but the plaintiffs claimed that other schools have invoked similar systems to label clothing that supports former President Donald Trump or celebrations of the Second Amendment as instances of bias. In the lawsuit, they express concern the bias reporting system could be used to go after students for political or social stances that do not fit into the school’s notion of social justice.

“Not only are Loudoun school leaders telling students what they can and can’t say, they are imposing controversial political views on students and punishing those who don’t agree,” Daniel Suhr, a senior attorney at the Liberty Justice Center, which is representing the parents, said in a statement. “Loudoun County’s policies are extreme and divisive. Every student has a right to express his or her views and to engage in a respectful, robust conversation about real issues without fear of retribution.”

The lawsuit also cites concerns about the school establishing a Student Equity Ambassador. In earlier statements, the school system said the position will only be open to students of color and prohibit white students from holding the position. After accusations of racial discrimination against white students, the school board removed that requirement and will allow white students to apply, but the focus on the position is to raise the voice of students of color.

Plaintiffs argued this position still violates the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. According to legal precedent cited in the lawsuit, a policy that is formally race-neutral can still be deemed discriminatory if the historical context and implementation show it was adopted with the motive of being racially discriminatory.

“Our kids have the right to develop their own opinions, free from indoctrination and school-sanctioned bullying,” Scott Mineo, a parent of a Loudoun County high school student and founder of Parents Against Critical Theory, said in a statement. “Instead of opening young minds, Loudoun County school leaders are policing them. This is not education; it is coercion.”

According to the lawsuit, one equity lead described the equity ambassador’s role as identifying microaggressions in the school system. It also cites a slideshow in which microaggressions are considered everyday subtle intentional or unintentional interactions that show bias, such as denying white privilege or asserting they do not see color or race.

The Loudoun County Public School system declined to comment because it does not comment on pending litigation.

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