A Mountain (Lakes) of Public School Curriculum Criticism

MOUNTAIN LAKES – Following the murder of George Floyd in 2020, the school district in this affluent, Morris County community put together an e-pamphlet called “Seeking Justice from Reflection to Action,” which reportedly encouraged political activism in support of “anti-racist” ideology.

To some, this may have seemed like an appropriate response to a galvanizing event.

But not to all.

The district and its leaders are being sued, individually, in federal court for allegedly discriminating against white students. The suit claims that district curriculum and activities related to the Floyd case forced a “racial political ideology onto its students” in violation of federal law. Moreover, such programming created a “hostile educational environment” for students who were discriminated against because of their skin color.

Nothing happens in a vacuum and the evolving story in Mountain Lakes is not unprecedented. Throughout the country, those on the political right have been criticizing public school curriculum as being hostile to whites and even anti-American.

See the debate about critical race theory.

This suit raises a basic question that can seem counterintuitive to some: Is speaking about and encouraging others – in this case students – to condemn racism, somehow racist itself?

The litigation expresses concern that the district talked about such things as “white privilege” and “institutional inequity.”

This forum is hardly a courtroom, but a central point must be raised. If a student, and/or his parents, disagree with a perceived classroom message, does that constitute discrimination? Or is it merely something with which not everyone agrees? For example, some would argue that white privilege and institutional inequity are genuine concerns that should be discussed with students.

The suit lists the plaintiffs as B.L. on behalf of his child, J.L. This is normally done to protect the identity of a minor and we will maintain that confidentiality here.

Nonetheless, the reality is that Mountain Lakes is not a large place and many in town seem to know who the plaintiffs are.

So much so that B.L. issued a statement through his attorney, Ronald A, Berutti, Cedar Knolls. Here it is:

“For two years, I have been in dialogue with the Mountain Lakes School Distrct about a basic discrimination matter. I believe the Mountain Lakes School District was influenced by prevailing national narrative and local social groups to advance specific messaging that is not fair and equal to all students. I am concerned that the school district works with selected groups in private meetings and via email without transparency and input from all parents in a public forum.

“Even in times of national turmoil, the school district must adhere to district policy and follow state and federal laws. It is unfortunate that we live in a time when holding our public institutions accountable is met in our community – and our country – by intimidation and personal attacks. My intent is not political and not intended to start a movement. It is simply for our schools to follow policy and law and stop discriminatory practices.

“My family has unfortunately been subject to harsh judgement, name calling and intimidation. We are humbled and appreciative of the support of so many in our town and throughout the state who have raised similar questions in their school districts but are afraid to speak up for fear of retribution. It is my hope that this matter is resolved for the sake of the next generation.”

In addition to the award of damages, the suit seeks to enjoin district programming from making claims about “white privilege” and implied systematic injustice because of skin color.

The suit also seeks to prevent the district from receiving federal funds until – and unless – it ceases its “discriminatory” practices. That can be more symbolic than real; local school districts do not receive all that much federal funding.

A message left this morning with the superintendent of schools, who was named as one of the defendants, has not yet been returned.

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