The Setting

Welcome to the Chicago suburbs, the latest battleground in the culture wars. We lay our scene at Evanston/Skokie School District 65, which serves about 7,300 students and employs about 1,400 early childhood, elementary, and middle school staff members. It’s a majority-minority district: 42 percent of students are white, 23 percent Black, 21 percent Hispanic, and 5 percent Asian American. In 2017, the district pledged to have every teacher undergo antiracist training within two years. Sounds helpful, especially with such a racially diverse student body, right? Don’t be naive — this is America! Land of baseball, apple pie, and suing your employer!

The Major Players

The plaintiff Nichols Middle School drama teacher Stacy Deemar, who is white and has taught in the district for nearly 20 years. She’s represented by the Southeastern Legal Foundation, a Georgia-based conservative nonprofit, in conjunction with journalist-activist Chris Rufo’s campaign against critical race theory.

The defendants The lawsuit names Evanston/Skokie School District 65 and its superintendent, Devon Horton; deputy superintendent, Latarsha Green; and assistant superintendent of curriculum, Stacy Beardsley.

Critical race theory A framework developed in the 1970s to study inequality in post–civil rights movement America. The term has been co-opted by the right (in a movement led by Rufo) into a catchall for theory, language, and lessons that criticize American institutions and/or seek to dismantle racism.

The Argument

Deemar and the SLF argue the district’s approach to teaching race violates the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the 14th Amendment. The lawsuit takes particular offense to the district separating teachers by race, as the complaint says happened during antiracist training sessions. Doing so, Deemar’s attorneys argue, is in itself racist. Deemar and the SLF also argue that encouraging employees to consider their racial privilege is actually bias against white people. Among the incidents cited in the lawsuit: being instructed to teach a book that quotes Toni Morrison saying, “White people have a very, very serious problem”; the suggestion that Eurocentric education might not work for every child; and colleagues rolling their eyes at Deemar. And here we were thinking thick skin was a prerequisite for teaching middle school.

The Stakes

Deemar is asking for  —  gird your loins  —  $1 in damages. Instead of cash, the lawsuit states, she’s requesting that the district “remedy the effects of the unconstitutional, illegal, discriminatory conduct.” Translation: She wants the court to end antiracist workshops at school. In a written statement to the community, Horton says the allegations take the district’s “lawful, sensitive, and responsible” training out of context. But the stakes stretch far beyond the Chicago area. Similar cases are cropping up nationwide, and the SLF plans to file additional lawsuits. If the court rules in favor of Deemar, the case could provide enough precedent for other districts to ban teaching about racism, too. In the meantime, best of luck enduring the teachers’ lounge at Nichols this fall, folks!