Posted on May 27, 2023

Parents Sue Elite Schools for ‘Indoctrinating’ Their Kids With Anti-Racist Policies

Hadriana Lowenkron, Bloomberg, May 22, 2023

When Jerome Eisenberg enrolled his daughter at the Brentwood School in Los Angeles, where Adam Levine met some of his Maroon 5 bandmates, the investment manager says he expected her to get a traditional liberal arts education.

But after the murder of George Floyd, the $50,000-a-year school said it was reimagining its purpose “with an eye toward anti-racism” and diversity, equity and inclusion, or DEI. In Eisenberg’s view, Brentwood was pulling a “bait and switch” on parents. He sued the school last year for breach of contract, civil rights violations and emotional distress.

“The curriculum change shifted away from teaching students critical thinking skills — how to think — and started indoctrinating them into what to think, based on Brentwood’s preferred political fad of the moment,” Eisenberg said in his lawsuit.

Brentwood succeeded in having the suit sent to private arbitration in November. {snip}


Republican politicians like Florida Governor Ron DeSantis have pushed laws to curtail instruction in gender, sexuality and racial identity in public schools. Private schools aren’t subject to those laws, but that doesn’t mean they’re immune to the culture war. Conservative-leaning parents have voiced opposition in other ways, including by filing lawsuits.


David Pivtorak, a lawyer for Eisenberg, also said he believes legal complaints against private schools over DEI have increased, though he added that the true number may be understated because of arbitration clauses like the one at Brentwood.

Others see a distortion. Jin Hee Lee, director of strategic initiatives at the NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund, said the pitched legal and political battles are painting a “misleading” picture about opposition to DEI instruction.

“The majority of parents want their children to attend a school that is diverse and inclusive,” Lee said, “and the majority of Americans understand that we have a very tragic legacy of slavery and Jim Crow and racial subjugation that we’re still dealing with in this country.”


Parents determined to challenge private school teaching and policies face a number of obstacles. Public school parents can argue that the government is infringing on their First Amendment rights by forcing DEI or similar instruction on their children. Parents largely waive those rights when they enroll their kids in private schools.


When parents do sue private schools, it’s usually for breach of contract, according to New Hampshire education lawyer Linda Johnson, who represents independent schools and consults with them on managing their legal risk. The process sometimes starts off with “a 10-page, single-space letter addressing everything that the parent thought the school did wrong to try to justify a repayment of tuition,” she said.

Many of the disputes arise out of school disciplinary action, Johnson said. {snip}


Johnson said suits focused narrowly on unequal or arbitrary discipline can succeed. {snip}

When it comes to parents challenging private school curricula they see as misguided, Steven Ludwig, a Philadelphia-based education lawyer, said he doesn’t see a viable legal path. After all, the parents made the decision to send their children to that school.


That’s not always so easy. Private schools that have embraced DEI are frequently also those with the strongest academic reputations and the best records of placing graduates in Ivy League and other elite colleges — which themselves have been criticized as bastions of wokeness. {snip}

Former investment banker Andrew Gutmann caused a stir two years ago when he wrote a letter to other parents at Manhattan’s Brearley School urging them to reject Brearley’s “obsession with race” and saying he was pulling his daughter, Lauren, from the top-ranked school, where tuition is about $60,000.

Brearley head Jane Fried shot out an email calling the letter “deeply offensive and harmful” and reaffirming the school’s commitment to being “inclusive” and “antiracist.”

Gutmann said in an interview that his family wasn’t “looking for a conservative education.” He said they “just want what anybody would’ve used to call a traditional liberal arts education.”


Since withdrawing Lauren from Brearley, Gutmann said, it has been “nearly impossible” to find a school that challenges his daughter academically but isn’t “politicized.” He tried a small private school in New Jersey and then another in Florida before opting to home-school her this year. He plans to send her to a British boarding school in the fall.