The US Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit ruled that a program asking students to report alleged discrimination through an online portal in Loudoun County Public Schools (LCPS) might violate the First Amendment.
In 2021 parents filed a lawsuit to challenge two programs introduced by the LCPS to address what it called discrimination and systemic racism. The first program was a bias-reporting system, dubbed the Bias Incident Reporting System, which allowed students to anonymously report incidents of bias and request administrators to investigate.
We obtained a copy of the ruling for you here.
The second program was the Student Equity Ambassador Program, which recruited a small group of students who would meet with administrators and share accounts of racism and harassment from anonymous classmates.
The lawsuit was dismissed by a judge in the Eastern District of Virginia. The parents appealed the decision at the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals.
The appellate judges said that the parents could not challenge the ambassador program. However, they said that the bias-reporting system could violate the First Amendment.
The court said that “these allegations are sufficient to show that the bias reporting system caused the parents’ children to experience a non-speculative and objectively reasonable chilling effect on their speech.”
“They allege their children’s views plausibly fell within what Student Equity Ambassadors in presentations about the program defined as microaggressions,” the court wrote. “And the parents allege that their children refrained from speaking on these issues because they feared that, if they did, fellow LCPS students would accuse them of bias.”
In the lawsuit, the parents alleged that the bias-reporting system “prompts self-censorship.” The suit added that the school district was “creating a process for anonymously ratting out classmates for anything anyone finds offensive, with no burdens of proof or due process protections.”
A spokesperson for the school district said that the bias-reporting system has not been used since the lawsuit was filed.