Wellesley, MA – A national parents group has filed a federal lawsuit against Wellesley Public Schools (WPS) that claimed the district discriminated against white students by holding racially-segregated events and creating an unfair speech policy.
The non-profit Parents Defending Education (PDE) said in a press release announcing the lawsuit that WPS has “systemically and repeatedly violated students’ First and Fourteenth Amendment rights, Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Massachusetts Students’ Freedom of Expression Law through the use of segregated ‘affinity groups,’ and an onerous speech code featuring a ‘bias reporting’ program.”
The lawsuit said the school district’s biased speech policy had been “weaponized by certain students to punish classmates who express unpopular views,” MassLive reported.
The press release that the racial affinity groups set up by WPS allow “people within an identity group to openly share their experiences without risk of feeling like they will offend someone from another group, and without another group’s voices.”
PDE said that proved the racial affinity group policy was designed to be exclusionary.
WPS made affinity spaces part of its strategic equity plan for 2020 to 2025, MassLive reported.
The lawsuit alleged that the district’s director of diversity, equity and inclusion, Charmie Curry, asked teachers and staff exclusively invite black and brown students to an affinity group in February.
The lawsuit claimed Curry then launched an affinity group for Asian American students in March, MassLive reported.
But when parents asked the school district to create an affinity group for Jewish students “in the wake of anti-Semitic violence and discrimination,” WPS refused, according to the lawsuit.
“Under the guise of ‘racial equity,’ WPS has adopted a policy of segregating students by race,” the complaint alleged. “Specifically, WPS sponsors and organized racial ‘affinity group’ meetings that are open to some students but closed to others, based solely on the races and ethnicities of the students involved.”
The lawsuit also accused the school district of telling students not to say “All Lives Matter” or “Blue Lives Matter” because it offended the Black Lives Matter movement, MassLive reported.
In the complaint, the parents alleged that the district told the students that the phrase “Blue Lives Matter” was associated with white supremacy.
WPS denied a request from Jewish parents who asked permission to hang an Israeli flag and a Thin Blue Line flag next to the Black Lives Matter flags displayed in public schools, according to the lawsuit.
Parents in the lawsuit also claimed that the school district’s speech policy was too broad and was used to shame students, MassLive reported.
The complaint said parents said the speech policy created “a circumstance where their child will have no choice but to self-censor out of fear of punishment, both now and in the future.”
“The Policy also prohibits speech or expression that ‘treats another person differently’ or amounts to an ‘offensive comment’ about issues like ‘race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, religion, or disability,” the complaint read. “WPS has no compelling interest in suppressing this speech, and, even if it did, its restrictions are not narrowly tailored to further that interest.”
PDE has asked the court to stop WPS from enforcing its policies, WBZ reported.
“This is not how public schools that operate with public tax dollars should be conducting themselves,” PDE President Nicole Neily said. “It is fundamentally un-American to discriminate against students or separate students, segregate students, treat them differently, on the basis of race. It’s un-American and also it’s unconstitutional.”