Kendall Tietz, DCNF
- A Wisconsin school district claimed state and federal non-discrimination laws do not apply to white students because they are not part of a protected class, according to the response a student’s parents received after they filed a racial discrimination complaint.
- The Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL) condemned the “outrageous statement” calling the district’s “official position … that race discrimination laws do not apply to white students,” “patently false,” in a letter to the district superintendent.
- “They think there’s something called protected classes, where only certain people are in protected classes and that there’s also a majority class that does not benefit from these protections,” WILL’s Deputy Counsel Daniel P. Lennington told the DCNF. “That is not what the law is, that’s what Critical Race Theory teaches, but that’s not what the law is.”
A Wisconsin school district claimed state and federal non-discrimination laws do not apply to white students because they are not part of a protected class, according to the response a student’s parents received after they filed a complaint alleging their child was racially discriminated against.
Assistant Superintendent Tanya Fredrich of Elmbrook Schools investigated the complaint and asserted “that the student is not a member of any class that is legally protected from discrimination by state or federal law” in a Nov. 17 statement obtained by the Daily Caller News Foundation.
The Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL) condemned the “outrageous statement” issued by Fredrich that took the “official position … that race discrimination laws do not apply to white students,” in a letter from President & General Counsel Richard M. Esenberg and Deputy Counsel Daniel P. Lennington, addressed to Elmbrook Schools and its superintendent of Schools, Mark Hansen.
“Not only is this both legally and factually wrong, but it is frankly shocking that a public educational institution could hold such a view,” WILL added in its letter.
“There is no such thing as a ‘protected class’ in the sense that some races are protected while others are not,” the WILL letter stated. “Black and brown students do not have different rights; they have identical rights to white students and must be treated identically to white students.”
The child in question was suffering from depression and her parents were working with doctors to address her health concerns, the mother who filed the complaint told the DCNF on the condition of anonymity. The parents discovered their daughter was failing, but said they had no idea and administrators would not communicate with them unless they gave the school access to the student’s personal healthcare information and open dialogue with her healthcare professionals.
The student’s mother started going to board meetings and Elmbrook’s Teaching and Learning Committee meetings, which she said seemed to focus entirely on helping low-income and non-white students, often advocating for the use of many of the accommodations that she claimed the district was refusing her daughter.
Elmbrook Schools said there is no evidence that the student’s white race, heterosexual orientation and middle-upper middle-class socioeconomic status were a consideration in any decision it made regarding the student, but the district said it “must be noted” that the student in question is not a member of any class protected by discrimination laws, according to the complaint response.
“To the contrary, the student’s race, sexual orientation and socio-economic status are what are considered to be the majority status and thus do not form a basis for claiming that the student is being treated or has been treated less favorably than persons not in the protected class,” Fredrich’s complaint response said.
WILL called this stance “patently false” because everyone is protected by both federal and state non-discrimination laws, which do not establish a “diminished set of rights for those with ‘majority status’” because all racial groups are “protected ‘classes.’”
“They think there’s something called protected classes, where only certain people are in protected classes and that there’s also a majority class that does not benefit from these protections,” Lennington told the DCNF. “That is not what the law is, that’s what Critical Race Theory teaches, but that’s not what the law is.”
CRT holds that America is fundamentally racist, yet it teaches people to view every social interaction and person in terms of race. Its adherents pursue “antiracism” through the end of merit, objective truth and the adoption of race-based policies.
‘Equity Does Not Mean Equal’
The Elmbrook school board considered a draft of their proposed “Equity Non-Negotiables,” (ENN), which outlined the district’s plans for implementing equity initiatives, but the board voted against them on June 8, according to the draft and meeting minutes.
“Equity does not mean equal,” the ENN draft said. “Achieving educational equity will mean that schools and students may receive different resources based on specific needs.”
“The use of the word equity in modern education means, quite simply, reverse discrimination and reverse discrimination is illegal,” Lennington told the DCNF.
In one section, the ENN said the “the system is responsible for failure,” but vowed to create “a system where success is accessible through a representative and inclusive curriculum that decenters whiteness and prioritizes marginalized communities in all subjects.”
In another part of the draft, the district also said it would “adjust curricula across all subjects to ensure representative anti-racist history of all marginalized groups (including culturally relevant pedagogy).”
“This is a real concrete example of how Critical Race Theory is actually put into practice,” Lennington said. “It means reverse discrimination is important and necessary. It’s just right out of Ibram X Kendi.”
“What it really looks like is students are treated differently,” he added. “They’re given different services based on the color of their skin.”
“There is no such thing as a nonracist or race-neutral policy,” Kendi writes in his book. “Every policy in every institution in every community in every nation is producing or sustaining either racial inequity or equity between racial groups.”
In response to there not being a race-neutral policy, “The only remedy to racist discrimination is antiracist discrimination. The only remedy to past discrimination is present discrimination. The only remedy to present discrimination is future discrimination,” according to Kendi.
The ENN also advocates for the use of “culturally relevant pedagogy” in curriculum, which CRT theorist Gloria Ladson-Billings actively promotes and argues is necessary because “teaching is a political act.”
Even though the ENN, which were renamed to “Equity Principles,” did not pass, Lennington said WILL believes Elmbrook Schools and its administrators are still following the suggested initiatives.
“We absolutely believe that they’re still adhering to their equity non-negotiables,” Lennington said. “The teachers, the staff and the administrators are all trained on the non-negotiables and they are adhering to them and there’s no evidence to the contrary.
Elmbrook parent Emily Donohue told the DCNF that the parent group she is involved with received feedback from teachers in the community that Lisa Rettler, Elmbrook’s director of secondary teaching & learning, “advised teachers during summer professional development that the district would move forward with the non-negotiables under a different name [All In For All] because equity had been poorly received.”
“We were surprised to see Lisa Rettler with a sticker proudly displayed on her laptop during a December 2021 board meeting,” Donohue said. “I am not surprised by the language Tanya Fredrich used in her response to the complaint referenced by WILL’s 3/9/22 letter as it mirrors the ‘de-centering whiteness’ portion of the non-negotiables.”
“It means that Elmbrook intends to ignore the God given rights of students outlined in the Constitution so they can play god by choosing winners and losers to ensure equal outcomes,” she added.
“That’s the message I’ve been trying to get out to parents because parents see the word equity all the time, but they don’t realize what it means when your school district is telling you they have equity principles in place,” he added. “What they’re saying is that they’re treating kids differently based on race.”
‘We’ve Heard This Before’
Lennington is in charge of WILL’s “Equality Under The Law Project,” which he said files strategic litigation to protect people’s rights and achieve equal protection under the laws.
“We’ve heard this before. We’ve heard people say, ‘This teacher told me that my son can’t be the victim of race discrimination because he’s white,’ but we’ve never seen it in writing like this,” Lennington told the DCNF. “This is the first time we’ve actually seen it in writing, apart from the [teacher] training materials.”
The Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guarantees “equal protection of the laws,” which was affirmed by the Supreme Court case Regents of the University of California v. Bakke, WILL told Elmbrook Schools in its letter. The high court ruled that a white student could allege racial discrimination under the U.S. Constitution, which the Supreme Court asserted has “‘never’ been interpreted as protecting only minorities from race discrimination,” the letter added.
Because Elmbrook Schools receives federal funds it is subject to Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which guarantees “no person” is “subject to discrimination” “on the ground of race,” the letter said.
The Wisconsin Constitution and Wisconsin Statutes, Section 118.13 prohibit racial discrimination and guarantee equality under the law, requiring school employees to treat students of all races equally, WILL said. The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction also states that “no pupil may be … treated in a different manner because of . . . race,” according to the letter.
“These laws mandate, quite simply, the following: all students must be treated equally,” the letter concluded. “Teachers may not make distinctions based on color, provide additional support for students based on race, attempt ‘racial balancing’ or ‘proportionality’ in programs or classrooms, or grant special treatment or privileges to support certain racial ‘identities.’”
WILL called on Elmbrook Schools to take immediate action in response to the “grave nature” of what it believes is a mistake and instructed the district to make it clear to staff that all students are protected under nondiscrimination laws.
“While we appreciate public schools are under considerable pressure to embrace progressive concepts such as ‘equity,’ ‘social emotional learning,’ and ‘culturally responsive teaching,’ nondiscrimination laws still apply to all teachers and staff,” the letter said.
Elmbrook Schools published a statement in response to WILL’s letter stating the group could not have read the report in its entirety and come to their conclusion, but admitted the language WILL cited could have been communicated more clearly.
WILL “falsely asserts, ‘it is the official position of the Elmbrook Schools that race discrimination laws do not apply to white students,’” adding that the district “does not tolerate discrimination on the basis of race or any other protected class” and “all racial groups are members of protected classes and treated equally,” according to the statement.
Although, the parent who filed the complaint told the DCNF that the district’s handling of the complaint and its response to WILL’s letter “is just one of many examples of how our District is being run.”
“We believe it is dangerous,” she said. “From our perspective, rather than take action to resolve any issues that are brought to their attention, they instead deny or avoid complaints and concerns and make efforts to cover-up their harmful actions. We feel that as an organization, the leaders of Elmbrook School District are either incompetent or intentionally creating a hostile environment for their students and within our community.”
“Even when the facts are irrefutable, they seem to ignore and bury them behind manipulated words while further bullying students, parents, and our community,” she added. “From our experience, other than one member, the Board is complicit in helping the administration reach their ambiguously stated mission and vision, which we feel have nothing to do with academics and only serve to keep people confused and in fear.”
Lennington said WILL is relieved that Elmbrook “now publicly recognizes that nondiscrimination laws apply to all students, despite their clear and unequivocal language to the contrary in the report.”
“However, it is disappointing that they will not simply admit their mistake,” he said. “We will continue to monitor the district’s compliance with basic principles of equality and their administration of colorblind policies.”
Elmbrook Schools did not respond to the DCNF’s request for comment.
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