Posted on May 19, 2022

Virginia School’s ‘Anti-Racist’ Program Has Changed My Son, Mom Says

Ryan Mills, National Review, May 13, 2022

When Melissa Riley looks at her 13-year-old son, she sees a talented artist, a funny kid who likes playing pranks, and a gamer who spends a lot of time playing Fortnite with friends.


But that’s not what the teachers and leaders of her son’s Virginia middle school see, she said. When they look at her son, she believes they see one thing first and foremost: a black kid.

Growing up in the Charlottesville area, Riley said her son never really saw himself as different from the other kids in school. Sure, his skin tone was a little darker — his dad is black and Riley is white and Native American — but Riley never thought it was appropriate to box him in with stifling racial classifications.

“He looks Hawaiian,” she said of her son. {snip}

But she said her son’s views on race and his conception of his own complex identity have been tossed in a blender and mixed up ever since the Albemarle School District adopted an “anti-racism” policy, with an explicit goal of eliminating “all forms of racism” from the local schools.

Riley said that a new anti-racist curriculum launched at Henley Middle School last spring is itself racist, because it indoctrinates students and teachers in a racial essentialist worldview that emphasizes racial conflict and treats students differently based on their skin color.

She said the school has changed her son in ways she doesn’t approve of, filling his head with racial-awareness lessons that emphasize oppression and privilege. Her son now sees himself as different from his mostly white classmates: as a young black man who will have more struggles in life because of his race and because of the systemic racism that is endemic in American life.

“He is changing,” Riley said of her son. “If things don’t go his way or things seem unfair, he will now claim it’s racism. He never did that before. He now identifies as a black man, because that’s how the school told him he looks and who he is.”


Riley and her son are among the plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed against the Albemarle County School Board in December by the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), a nonprofit conservative legal firm. The ADF lawyers allege the district’s anti-racism policy and curriculum violate the Virginia Constitution’s equal-protection and free-speech clauses and violate parental rights.

Their lawsuit was dismissed last month by a circuit-court judge who seemed to find the district’s policy unobjectionable and declared that there is “nothing inherently evil or wrong” about it.

The ADF lawyers have vowed to appeal the ruling. “Certainly, we were disappointed with the result, no question about it,” said Ryan Bangert, senior counsel with the ADF. “We’re hopeful that the court above on appeal will see things differently, and we’re confident that it will.”

The Albemarle County School Board adopted its anti-racism programming in 2019 and implemented a pilot program at Henley Middle School last spring, as students were returning to the classroom from COVID-19-related school closures. That was when Riley learned about the program.

At its most mundane, the school offered a series of anti-bias lessons and feel-good teachings about positivity and inclusivity. Last summer, for example, Henley Middle School students painted murals in the school hallways with messages such as, “We are equal,” “Happy mind, happy life,” and that life is fragile, “like paper,” according to a local TV news report.

But parents who dug deeper into the curriculum found reasons to be concerned.

The curriculum taught middle-schoolers that racism is “the marginalization and/or oppression of people of color based on a socially constructed hierarchy that privileges white people.” Students were urged to be “anti-racists,” and that by not making anti-racist choices, they were unconsciously upholding “aspects of white supremacy, white-dominant culture, and unequal institutions and society.”

Teachers were trained to identify “white privilege” and to understand that the idea of meritocracy is a myth. They learned about “communication as a racialized tool,” and were taught that “white talk” is verbal, impersonal, intellectual and task-oriented, whereas “color commentary” is nonverbal, personal, emotional and process-oriented — lessons that critics say perpetuate gross racial stereotypes.


Some parents spoke up at meetings, complaining that the lessons were rooted in critical race theory, and calling for a pause in the teachings. But the school board and the superintendent dug in, penning an online letter that emphasized “bringing the anti-racism policy to life for all.”

They denied that critical race theory was part of their curriculum but acknowledged that the district offers a professional-development program on culturally responsive teaching. The anti-racism programming was important to correct racial disparities in student access to learning opportunities, respond to reports of racial harassment and bullying, eliminate the unequal demographic impact of policies and programs, and improve longstanding opportunity and achievement gaps among students, according to the letter.