AG’s Office sues Springfield Public Schools over Critical Race Theory concerns/requests

Missouri

SPRINGFIELD, Mo.- Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt announced Tuesday he has filed a lawsuit against Springfield Public Schools for Sunshine Law violations that occurred after his Office requested public records from the school district relating to Critical Race Theory.

“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 records. 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,” Schmitt stated in a press release.

Springfield Public Schools released a statement Tuesday afternoon responding to the lawsuit.

“SPS is disappointed by the Attorney General’s decision to use the power of his office to attack public education. This is an attempt to intimidate SPS, and while it will not prevail, it will, unfortunately, require considerable taxpayer resources to defend. The district has been in ongoing communication with the Attorney General’s office regarding his requests for information.

The Attorney General’s request is similar to the one most recently drafted by Rep. Fishel. In both circumstances, the requests are extraordinarily broad in scope and have the potential to divert hundreds, if not thousands, of hours of district staff time to search and review thousands of pages of documents. The original request includes all staff and student email communications sent over multiple years. 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. In the meantime, any deliberate misrepresentation of the district’s work by elected officials must end. 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. 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,” said Springfield Public Schools’ Chief Communication Officer Stephen Hall.

According to the lawsuit, SPS reported in December 2020 that the district had required its board of education, senior leadership team, and other school leaders to participate in a one-day training from the Facing Racism Institute as part of a fall 2019 Leadership Series. One of the training objectives was to “introduce the components of critical race theory from educational research with applications to the district.”

“They refused to even answer the question. You know, we’re not going to answer your question unless you deposit 30-plus thousand dollars. Look, that is a huge barrier for the parent that wants to know and the parents who have been asking questions, and they’ve been limiting it to ten people per meeting, so they’ve completely stonewalled this process, and they’re trying to stonewall for the Attorney General’s Office. I got news for them, it’s not going to work,” Schmitt said in an interview with OzarksFirst.

Schmitt provided a link to the training from SPS. One slide states the goals of the training:

  • Learn about oppression, white supremacy, and systemic racism
  • Reflect on current issues that have impacted our society
  • nationally and globally (i.e., COVID-19 and protests against systemic racism towards the Black Community)
  • Have a greater understanding of current terminology
  • Engage in identity development and understanding
  • Receive tools on how to become Anti-Racist educators, leaders and staff members of SPS
  • Share and dialogue with larger and smaller groups

The lawsuit alleges that at another training, teachers and staff were required to consult an “oppression matrix” and identify where they fall on the matrix. According to the matrix, “privileged social groups” include “white people,” “male assigned at birth,” and “protestants.”

Another figure presented to staff stated that “covert white supremacy” could be “education funding from property tax,” and “all lives matter.” Yet another figure that was presented to Springfield Public Schools staff at a different training stated that “Make America Great Again,” “police murdering POC [People of Color],” and “celebration of Columbus Day” are examples of covert white supremacy,” the press release states.

“The Springfield Public Schools’ Chief Equity and Diversity Officer has claimed the need for social justice in K-12 education today equals or exceeds the need during times of segregation: ‘In 2020, with four years of an administration that has focused on school choice, the restriction of diversity training for state and/or governmental entities like schools and threatening funding of schools who wish to expand their curriculum to become culturally consciousness [sic] and other dangerous tactics to stop inclusive learning for students, the role of social justice in K‒12 public education is just as important as it was during segregation if not more,’” the lawsuit continues.

SPS admitted to Schmitt’s Office the district provided equity training to students in the GO CAPS program for three school years. In May of 2021, Springfield Public Schools reported that it had formed a “Culturally Relevant Curriculum Review” and adopted a Culturally Responsible Scorecard to implement a social justice evaluation of core curriculum, including math, the press release states.

“I mean we’re coming. We filed the lawsuit, we’re going to get answers. These parents in Springfield deserve to know what’s being taught in their schools, how their administrators and teachers and staff are being trained. I mean, this is a public school. You know, 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 them and to also enforce the Sunshine Law, which is why we filed the lawsuit,” Schmitt added.

The district later announced that it would not release training materials to the public. Schmitt’s Office filed a Sunshine Law request to determine how frequently Critical Race Theory and antiracism materials and teachings were supplied or taught to students.

The press release says SPS then provided a fee estimate that demanded an initial deposit of $37,000.

“Springfield Public Schools violated § 610.026.2 [the Sunshine Law] by demanding a deposit for items or services other than copies as a precondition to making public records available to the Attorney General’s Office,” the lawsuit alleges.

In the cost estimate, SPS allegedly failed to provide hourly rates for “employees of the body that result in the lowest amount of charges for search, research, and duplication time” as required by law.

The lawsuit lists 13 counts and asks the Greene County Court to issue a judgment declaring Springfield Public Schools violated the Sunshine Law, ordering the Springfield Public Schools to release all responsive records to the Attorney General’s Office, and ordering $1,000 in civil penalties for any knowing violation under the Sunshine Law.

According to the lawsuit, there are other discrepancies in Springfield Public Schools’ responses to the Sunshine Law request sent by the Attorney General’s Office and similar Sunshine Law requests sent in by State Representative Craig Fishel and the Show-Me Institute, including promising different search rates and differing numbers of responsive documents.

In May, Stephen Hall with SPS shared a response about Critical Race Theory.

“I believe that that is a word that is being used as an umbrella term all across the country right now, to apply to anything related to equity and diversity work,” said Hall. “And I think there’s a great deal of misunderstanding regarding what that is. But what I can assure you, is it has nothing to do with the training that we are talking about, which is for staff only. This is not curriculum designed for students.”

Since May, according to the Springfield News-Leader, the district made changes in response to the feedback from those in opposition.

“A theme emerged after the first three trainings, and as a result, the district modified an image in one of the presentation slides and handouts,” Hall said.

Hall told the News-Leader the core training, and the intent behind it did not change. He said that it is not unusual for changes to be made in the middle of training.

“Our commitment to high-quality professional development ensures that we continually evaluate and identify opportunities to enhance and improve — both the content and the delivery,” he said. “In this case, feedback was collected after each training session and was reviewed for common themes.”

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