Parents Defending Education Files Federal Lawsuit Challenging Wellesley Public Schools’ Segregated Affinity Groups and Speech Policy
“It is appalling that an American public school has consciously implemented a policy to segregate students based on race and ethnicity. Excluding children from activities based on immutable characteristics is not only immoral, but unconstitutional – and must be ended immediately – both in Wellesley and everywhere else this practice exists.”
– Nicole Neily, President and Founder of Parents Defending Education
Wellesley, Ma. — Parents Defending Education (PDE), a nationwide nonprofit membership association that empowers concerned citizens to become more engaged in America’s education system, filed a new lawsuit yesterday against Wellesley Public Schools (WPS). Parents Defending Education v. Wellesley Public Schools et. al was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts, alleging that the district has systemically and repeatedly violated students’ First and Fourteenth Amendment rights, Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Massachusetts Students’ Freedom of Expression Law through the use of segregated “affinity groups” and an onerous speech code featuring a “bias reporting” program.
As part of Wellesley Public Schools’ “Strategic Equity Plan [for] 2020-2025,” the district adopted a policy of hosting racially-segregated affinity groups, asserting that this practice is necessary to achieve “racial equity.” According to WPS, its racial affinity groups allow “people within an identity group to openly share their experiences without risk of feeling like they will offend someone from another group, and without another group’s voices” – demonstrating that the racial affinity group policy was designed to be exclusionary.
WPS has held multiple racially segregated events for students. Emails reveal that the district’s director of diversity, equity, and inclusion lamented that the school didn’t maintain a list of students sorted by race, which would have made it easier for her to invite only the Asian and Asian American students to such an event. Nevertheless, the district refused to host an affinity group for Jewish students, despite statistical evidence highlighting the rise in anti-Semitic violence nationwide.
In addition, WPS maintains a speech code that has both the purpose and effect of chilling student speech. The district punishes student speech that is “biased,” which it defines as “offensive,” has an “impact” on others, “treats another person differently,” or “demonstrates conscious or unconscious bias.”
At the same time, WPS seems to have no problem discriminating against viewpoints with which it does not agree. Several families expressed concern over the display of Black Lives Matter flags at various schools, given BLM’s support for Hamas and comments about defunding the police; when concerns were raised, the district refused to fly Israeli or Thin Blue Line flags as a gesture of viewpoint diversity.
In light of WPS’ policies and actions, the children of PDE’s members have abstained from speaking on topics including abortion, affirmative action, and the Second Amendment because they fear their speech will be anonymously reported to school authorities through the district’s bias response system.
“Wellesley Public Schools maintains multiple policies that demonstrate the district’s deep contempt for the constitutional rights of its students,” said Parents Defending Education President Nicole Neily. “Racial and viewpoint discrimination have no place in an American public school, and we are proud to fight on behalf of our members to put a stop to these unconstitutional policies.”
Parents Defending Education has asked the court to declare that Wellesley’s use of segregated affinity groups is a violation of both the equal protection clause and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 – and that the district’s speech policy is a violation of both the First and Fourteenth Amendment, as well as the Massachusetts Students’ Freedom of Expression Law. PDE has asked the courts to enjoin the racially segregated affinity group policy, as well as the district’s speech code.