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Calvert County school board asks judge to toss lawsuit over ‘critical race theory’

The Calvert County Board of Education is asking a federal judge to dismiss a lawsuit brought by a group of parents who say the school system is teaching tenets of “critical race theory.”

The board in its response argues that the parents are overstepping in their effort to control educational materials and policies.

“This court should decline the plaintiffs’ invitation to involve itself in the review and creation of educational policies that traditionally have been the legitimate province of state and local school boards, superintendents and professional educators,” the board said in its response.

The term critical race theory refers to an academic framework that argues racism is a systemic problem ingrained in American institutions. The term has been adopted by conservative groups when referring to a broader range of topics, including teachings related to diversity and cultural awareness.

The complaint alleges that Calvert County Public Schools leaders are advocating “a radicalized political agenda disguised as ‘social justice’ and ‘equity’ in an effort to create social justice activists and cause racial division among the CCPS student body.

“The focus of this ideology is recognition of skin color, shaming of white people, demeaning people of color, anti-Christian and anti-police rhetoric,” the parents’ lawyer, C. Edward Hartman, wrote in the complaint.

In its response to the Calvert County lawsuit, the school board said its “efforts to foster an inclusive and equitable educational environment do not include any practices based upon racial classifications that trigger strict scrutiny review in this case.”

“By suggesting the board bury its head in the sand and ignore the concept of race entirely, plaintiffs disingenuously ask that the board naively administer its programs and activities in a color-blind fashion,” the school board’s lawyers wrote.

A spokesperson for Calvert County Public Schools, Traci Chappelear-Thomas, declined to comment because the lawsuit is pending.

In an interview, Hartman said a lawsuit offers a faster intervention for concerned parents than running for school board in a few years. He claimed that the school system is dividing students by teaching them to categorize themselves by race, gender, class or political viewpoint.

“What it does is it creates more division than it seeks to heal,” Hartman said.

Allegations that critical race theory is being taught at public schools have become increasingly prevalent in recent months, as have bans that attempt to prevent the teaching of “divisive” topics.

A recent report from PEN America found that 24 legislatures across the country introduced bills this year “intended to restrict teaching and training” in educational settings.

In the Calvert County lawsuit, the parents take issue with educational resources that identify types of social privilege and ask students to reflect on racism and police violence, among other topics.

The school board’s response notes that several of the parents who brought the complaint do not have children enrolled in Calvert County Public Schools. One woman withdrew her child from the school system in Aug. 2020, according to the response, while others’ children previously attended Calvert County schools and graduated.

The board also argued that none of the plaintiffs whose children are enrolled in Calvert County schools named any injury their children suffered.

“Plaintiffs point to no specific aspect of the CCPS curriculum requiring that their students profess or accept the beliefs about which they complain,” the board’s lawyers wrote.

The lawsuit is docketed in U.S. District Court in Maryland at 8:21-cv-02381.