For Emily Mais, a former assistant principal in Albemarle County Public Schools in Virginia, the early days of returning to school during the COVID-19 pandemic were overwhelming. Teachers were tasked with implementing a myriad of health and safety procedures.
But it was then that her school district introduced controversial policies and mandatory teacher trainings based on critical race theory (CRT), with the stated goal of eliminating racism in the school system. Contrary to the goal, however, the curriculum promotes racial division and encourages racial harassment.
Even with the difficulties posed by the pandemic, Emily loved her job. But, after a period of intense harassment, she was forced out of that job in September 2021 because she questioned the school district’s radical racial policy.
Who is Emily Mais?
For as long as she can remember, Emily wanted to be an elementary school teacher. Demonstrating her commitment to the craft, she took the extra step of obtaining a master’s degree in teaching.
After working for more than a decade as an elementary school art teacher and administrator in Maryland, Emily moved with her family to Albemarle County. In October 2018, she began serving as assistant principal at Agnor-Hurt Elementary School in Charlottesville.
Less than three years later, she would be forced out of her job after enduring sustained racial harassment.
When the school district introduced its so-called “Anti-Racism Policy,” Emily was concerned. She perceived how the policy focused on “equity” rather than equal treatment. Calling for “equity” meant the school district was advocating for students (and employees) to be treated differently based on the color of their skin.
For example, the curriculum teaches that acts of “racism” can only be committed by members of the “dominant race,” which it defines as white people.
All staff members were encouraged to “speak their truth” during the teacher trainings. Still, Emily saw how white staff members who wanted to participate were shut down or dismissed. One administrator told teachers they needed to consider whether they were on the “anti-racism school bus, or if you need help finding your seat and keeping your seat, or if it’s time for you to just get off the bus.”
Even more disturbing: When parents expressed concerns about the curriculum at a school board meeting, an assistant superintendent told administrators the very next day that he received the parents’ comments as if those parents were slave owners who had raped his mother and sister, beaten him, and were now telling him not to talk about it.
This hostility led Emily to speak up in one of the training sessions, during which the group discussed the school district’s race-related hiring practices.
Emily made a comment on the topic, intending to use the phrase “people of color.” But she accidentally said “colored” instead. She immediately apologized—profusely and repeatedly—but one staff member ignored her apology and proceeded to berate her in front of the entire group.
This slip of the tongue led to months of abuse and harassment directed at Emily, eventually ending with her resigning from her position as assistant principal—a job that she loved.
Over and over again, Emily was accused of being a racist for her simple slip of the tongue. Other employees openly cursed about her and called her vulgar names at work.
Some fellow coworkers came to Emily in tears about what was being said about her. But due to the hostile environment created by the policy, they dared not speak out in support of her. Emily raised her concerns about the racially charged mistreatment with numerous administrators, but her words fell on deaf ears. No administrator came to her aid.
To show that she was leaving her job on good terms, Emily had to endure a final public apology meeting—orchestrated by administrators—which sent the message to other employees about what they could expect if they questioned the policy.
Emily was retaliated against for her speech opposing the policy, discriminated against for her point of view, and subjected to a racially hostile environment.
The school district humiliated and shamed Emily, gave other employees free rein to abuse her and make her life miserable, prevented colleagues from visibly supporting her, told her that her hurt and distress were further proof of her racism, and shamed in front of her colleagues.
ADF attorneys filed a lawsuit against the Albemarle County School Board on Emily’s behalf on April 13, 2022.
What's at stake?
Public schools cannot foster racially hostile environments for teachers and students, while intimidating those who dissent into silence and punishing those who speak up against racial discrimination.
“The training sets up a classic Catch-22,” said ADF Senior Counsel Kate Anderson, director of the ADF Center for Parental Rights. “It encourages all staff members to ‘speak their truth,’ but when a white person like Emily raises concerns about the divisive content, she is deemed a racist in need of further ‘anti-racism’ instruction.”
Teachers and administrators like Emily don’t forfeit their constitutional rights at the schoolhouse doors. And they cannot be used as mouthpieces to personally affirm an agenda that discriminates against others based on their race.
Emily’s case is not only about securing justice for her. It’s also about encouraging teachers, parents, and others to stand strong who have been vilified for speaking the truth.
- September 2021: Emily Mais resigned as assistant principal at Agnor-Hurt Elementary School in Charlottesville, Virginia, after being subjected to racial abuse and harassment.
- April 2022: ADF attorneys representing Emily filed a lawsuit against the Albemarle County School Board, asking the Albemarle County Circuit Court to grant her compensatory and punitive damages for the school board’s violations of Virginia law.
The bottom line
Teachers should be free to advocate for the good of their students without enduring racial harassment, and the government cannot force them to endorse an ideology that violates their beliefs.