Editorial: Discomfort does not count as an injury in public education | Editorial

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Daily Progress (from Charlottesville)

Albemarle Circuit Court Judge Claude Worrell II wanted a list of student-specific injuries that occurred because Albemarle County public schools taught about institutional racism in the United States.

The Arizona-based Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), which sued claiming the Virginia school system’s anti-racism curriculum was itself racist, couldn’t produce a single one.

Worrell dismissed the case on April 22 in a high-profile test of a major conservative Republican political strategy in the run-up to the 2022 and 2024 elections. His lengthy interrogation of an ADF lawyer revealed what was this particular case from the start.

From the time the ADF filed the Albemarle case in December, it has been begging for victimized students. The lawsuit involved a pilot program that had already been shut down. The program, at only one middle school, did not penalize students who did not attend or whose parents chose to withdraw their children once it began. He did not sanction students who expressed their disagreement with the subject taught.

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Neither does the comprehensive anti-racism program that the Albemarle County School Board adopted in February 2019.

The best the ADF could find for the eight students it represented in the Albemarle school system, which has 14,000 children, was that half of them – four children – felt uncomfortable or confused by the program.

Worrell’s reaction to this was both legal and philosophical. The law requires actual injury to give those suing the right to a hearing. Beyond that, and equally important, education does not come with a guarantee of comfort. As Worrell correctly pointed out from the bench, “We don’t want you to feel too bad” doesn’t count as legal theory or a teaching rubric.

“It happens during education that people feel uncomfortable with their history,” Judge said.

Perhaps the most telling moment of the hearing was an exchange in which ADF’s attorney told Worrell that Albemarle’s anti-racism policy suggested every white student was a racist.

The Alliance Defending Freedom is a nonprofit organization founded by evangelical Christian leaders, such as James Dobson of Focus on the Family. The ADF argues that individual religious beliefs can justify discriminatory behavior. This includes refusing to cover birth control in employee health insurance plans. It extends to refusals to make wedding cakes for homosexual couples. It allows a teacher to opt out of addressing non-binary students by their preferred pronouns. This is why the Southern Poverty Law Center considers the ADF a hate group on LBGTQ+ issues.

Internal Revenue Service rules do not allow the ADF to be partisan or work in election campaigns. But the lawyer’s statement to Worrell about discrimination against white people is straight out of the Republican playbook. Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin used the manual to get elected in November. Former Vice President Mike Pence alluded to it recently in a speech at the University of Virginia. Attacks on school curricula that focus on institutional racism aim to make white voters fear losing power and push them to vote for Republican candidates.

Courts, however, require more than innuendo.

“Where does it say every white student is racist?” Worrell asked the ADF attorney. “It’s not in politics.”

The lawyer admitted that the words were not in the policy, but the implementation of the policy could be seen as labeling all white people as discriminatory.

Worrell called this response what it is – speculation.

The lawyer would have made a better argument by saying that the policy labels white people as privileged, not racist. But it didn’t hit the white scare factor.

On the other hand, going there last week allowed me to have a clear explanation of the law. Worrell used the ADF’s own legal briefs to cite a case in West Virginia where a school system expelled a student for refusing to take the oath of allegiance.

“Which child here is coerced and then expelled? Worrell asked of the Albemarle case. “There is no compulsion here.”

Anyone can say that Albemarle’s anti-racism policy forces students to say things they don’t believe. What the prosecution lacked in court was the one thing that separates what you want things to be from what they actually are.

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