Ed. Note: The following piece, written by Alliance Defending Freedom client Melissa Riley, originally appeared at The Washington Post.
As a single mom of a teenage boy, the last thing I ever wanted to do was to sue my local school district for what was going on in his classroom. And believe me, my hesitancy only increased with the subject matter of the lawsuit being the sensitive topic of race. But when four other families and I realized there was no other way to ensure our kids weren’t treated differently because of the color of their skin, we filed a lawsuit against Albemarle County Public Schools through our attorneys with Alliance Defending Freedom. A judge dismissed our lawsuit, but we filed an appeal this week.
I had raised some concerns with school staff members when I first discovered that they were bringing in a series of lessons centered on race. As it happens, my son has a mixed heritage: part White, part Native American and part Black. He is one of the few kids in his school with a darker skin tone. I didn’t want him to be in an environment in which everyone was focusing on his different skin color. But, shockingly, the school told me its proposed solution was that children of color would be offered a “safe space” outside the classroom while everyone else continued with the lessons.
To me, that was clear segregation.
Sadly, as things progressed, it became clear that the “anti-racism” policy behind these lessons was actually pushing a racist agenda rooted in critical race theory (CRT). Far from ensuring equal treatment of all students, the school district was teaching them that their skin color would determine their future. The policy pigeonholed students into “privileged” or “subordinate” categories based on lazy stereotypes that did not reflect their own personal drive, work ethic or ingenuity.
Rather than acknowledge parents’ concerns with the policy’s race-based classifications, the message from the school district was that CRT-based concepts were going to be woven into every aspect of our kids’ education — whether we liked it or not. If anything, once parents objected, the school district doubled down. It prioritized a racially divisive narrative over academic excellence.
It’s not that schools shouldn’t be teaching about the uncomfortable lessons of history or the evils of racism, including the sad fact that racism still exists in America. In fact, the families involved in the lawsuit come from a variety of ethnic backgrounds and are strongly united in the belief that racism is to be opposed at every opportunity. The problem is that our school district’s proposed solution was to counter racism with more racism. And that solution violates the Constitution. It’s a bad deal for all kids, no matter their skin color.
When I spoke up in the media about the lawsuit, I knew some people would disagree with me, but I was horrified to see malicious attacks on my relationship with my son. The same people cheering on “anti-racist” agendas in schools seemed to have no problem accusing me of racism for sharing my experience. It is so hurtful to know that people will happily misrepresent who you are just so they don’t have to respond to your arguments.
But these bad-faith attempts to ridicule me into silence won’t work. I know what a great privilege it is to be a parent, and I hope anyone who takes the time to look at the lawsuit will understand why I took the stand I did. I draw the line at a school policy that treats kids differently based on the color of their skin. Some people might disagree with that, but at the end of the day, I’m the one responsible for looking after the best interests of my son.
School is hard enough without being told by teachers you trust that your race will determine your outcome in life. I want my son and every other kid in his class to know that, if they put in the work, their skin color isn’t going to hold them back. I want them to know that they can trust each other and work together, even if they look different. These are messages I believe every kid needs to hear to thrive in America today.