Springfield, MO – Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt filed a lawsuit against Springfield Public Schools (SPS) Tuesday, alleging the district violated state law after his office asked for public records related to district’s use of critical race theory (CRT) and so-called anti-racist teaching.
Schmitt said his office submitted a Sunshine Law request in October in an effort to gather records regarding whether or not SPS teaches CRT to its 24,000 students and, if it does, how it is taught, the Associated Press reported.
According to the state attorney general’s lawsuit, SPS violated the law by demanding his office fork over an initial deposit of $37,000 to before it would even start searching for the public records.
Schmitt said the amount of money the district demanded was for far more than just the cost of the copies, and claimed SPS didn’t use hourly rates to try to keep the costs associated with the request to a minimum, despite being mandated to do so by law, the Associated Press reported.
The lawsuit accused the school district of evading attempts to determine whether and how SPS is teaching CRT to students, according to the Associated Press.
Schmitt said CRT has been utilized in teachers’ trainings for at least the past two years.
According to the lawsuit, staff and teachers were required during one training session to figure out where they fall on the “oppression matrix,” which included “protestants,” “male assigned at birth,” and “white people” as “privileged social groups,” KOLR reported.
Another training module claimed “education funding from property tax” and the term “all lives matter,” could qualify as examples of “covert white supremacy,” according to the news outlet.
Celebrating the national holiday of Columbus Day, instances of “police murdering POC [People of Color],” and the phrase “Make America Great Again,” are also examples of “covert white supremacy,” according to the SPS staff training.
“Parents have every right to know exactly what is being taught to their children, especially when public school systems are implementing components of critical race theory and so-called ‘antiracism’ teachings in teacher training and applying social justice scorecards to math and other core curriculum,” Schmitt said, according to KYTV.
“Springfield Public Schools has skirted our efforts to demand answers and transparency for parents who send their kids to Springfield Public Schools by demanding exorbitant fees for public record,” he added, according to KOLR. “Now, we’re taking Springfield Public Schools to court for those public records. I will always fight for parents’ rights to know exactly what schools are teaching their children.”
The state attorney general, who is currently running for Senate, asked the court to issue a judgement finding SPS in violation of the Sunshine Law and ordering the school district to release the applicable records to his office, KYTV reported.
Schmitt also requested the court order SPS to pay a civil penalty of $1,000 for any violations of the law.
“This is a public school,” the state attorney general told KOLR. “These school board members are elected by the public. These school administrators aren’t kings. They work for the parents. My job is to represent [parents] and to also enforce the Sunshine Law, which is why we filed the lawsuit.”
SPS called the lawsuit a “shameful” political ploy in a statement released Tuesday afternoon, KYTV reported.
“SPS is disappointed by the Attorney General’s decision to use the power of his office to attack public education,” the school district said. “This is an attempt to intimidate SPS, and while it will not prevail, it will unfortunately require considerable taxpayer resources to defend.”
SPS argued Schmitt’s records request was “extraordinarily broad in scope” and had the potential to cost “hundreds, if not thousands, of hours of district staff time” in order to search through thousands of pages of documents, KYTV reported.
The attorney general’s original request also included all of the student and staff email communications sent over a span of several years, the school district noted.
“SPS is accountable to taxpayers and to the educational needs of our 24,000 students. As a result, SPS should and will seek appropriate reimbursement,” the statement read.
SPS called for an end to what it described as Schmitt’s “deliberate misrepresentation of the district’s work,” KYTV reported.
“These efforts represent a loud, divisive, and misguided distraction. SPS has been very clear: Critical Race Theory is not being taught in our classrooms. Our work is focused on equity, not CRT,” the school district said. “SPS is being intentional in the educational experiences we provide all of our students. Ensuring our district is equitable and inclusive is our ethical responsibility to make SPS safe for all students and staff.”
“Any deliberate attempt to misrepresent this important work, especially for political purposes, is shameful indeed,” SPS added.
It is a common tactic for proponents of CRT to deny its existence by claiming that CRT is high-level college coursework and is not taught outside of those settings. However, in public discussion, references to CRT refer to the idea that people should be seen by their racial group, rather than as individuals, and they are labeled as oppressors or oppressed based on the color of their skin.