An Obama-appointed federal judge hit two teachers who sued over their school district’s mandatory training on becoming an “anti-racist” with nearly $313,000 in attorney’s fees.
Springfield, Missouri teachers Brooke Henderson and Jennifer Lumle sued in 2021 over their school district’s “equity training” on “oppression, white supremacy, and systemic racism,” which they say compelled their speech and forced them to express views they disagreed with as a condition of their employment. Southeastern Legal Foundation, representing the teachers, appealed what they called an “unprecedented and overtly hostile” district court order forcing them to pay attorney fees to the Eighth Circuit on Friday.
“In nearly 50 years of bringing lawsuits under §1983 civil rights law, SLF has never faced attorney fees sanctions for challenging unconstitutional government action at any level,” said SLF Litigation Director Braden Boucek in a statement. “This unprecedented ruling is sure to close the courthouse doors to teachers and parents.”
The district court chalked the teachers’ claims up to “frivolous political disagreement,” finding they did not suffer any injury and that the lawsuit had “trivialized the important work of the federal judiciary.”
“Taxpayer dollars which could have been devoted to enhancing the educational opportunity of the students served by the district have instead been diverted to the defense of this lawsuit,” wrote District Judge Douglas Harpool. “The students of the district deserve better. So too do the taxpayers whose hard-earned money is taxed by the district for the purpose of educating the children of the district in which they reside.”
In their original lawsuit, the teachers allege the district training “chills the speech of staff who disagree” with concepts presented, which included the idea that advocating for political, economic and social changes is necessary to be anti-racist; that colorblindness is a form of white supremacy; and that systems of oppression are “woven into the very foundation” of American culture.
“Worse still, SPS warns its staff during programming that ‘white silence’ is a form of white supremacy,” the lawsuitstated.”SPS puts its staff in the no-win situation of wondering if they should say what they really think (at the risk of being asked to leave), repeat what they think the district wants to hear (in conflict with their own beliefs), or not speak at all (at the risk of being labeled a white supremacist).”
When Henderson and Lumley did express their views, they were corrected, leading to them self-censoring, according to SLF.
“This is an effort by a lone agenda-driven federal judge to deny concerned teachers and parents the right to seek redress in court and to protect so-called ‘anti-racist’ training in Missouri’s public schools,” SLF General Counsel Kim Hermann said in a statement.
Springfield Public Schools said it was “pleased” by the court order in a statement provided to the Daily Caller News Foundation.
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