A former assistant principal at a Virginia elementary school has sued the Albemarle County School Board for allegedly maintaining a hostile work environment and subjecting her to racially charged harassment.
Emily Mais loved her job at Agnor-Hurt Elementary School, according to the lawsuit, which was filed in May by Alliance Defending Freedom, but she was forced out in September 2021 because she questioned the school’s implementation of a radical teacher training program that “scapegoats, stereotypes, labels, and ultimately divides people based on race.”
The teacher training, currently in use at several county schools, is based on a book titled “Courageous Conversations About Race (CCAR).” Emily, a 17-year teacher and administrator, attended the CCAR training at Agnor-Hurt beginning in March 2020, and during the course of the program became disturbed by what she believed were racially discriminatory training materials.
“The goal was laudable—to ‘become an anti-racist school system,'” Emily said of the training, in a May 1 editorial in the New York Post. “But the curriculum, in fact, produced the opposite result.”
“As assistant principal at Charlottesville’s Agnor-Hurt Elementary School, I witnessed firsthand how this training directed teachers to be racist by viewing each other and their students based solely on race and then treating each other differently according to the color of their skin,” she said in the editorial. “Indeed, this curriculum, based on Glenn Singleton’s book ‘Courageous Conversations About Race,’ promotes harmful racial stereotypes. It also teaches that students of color are inherently disadvantaged.”
The content of the training immediately set off warning signals for Emily, who believes every person is made in the image of God and entitled to equal treatment and respect. And she wasn’t alone in her concern.
Fellow teachers and staff members repeatedly shared their concerns with her about how the curriculum created a racially divisive and hostile environment, and about the hurtful comments other staff members made throughout the training, which denigrated them for being white. She had to speak up.
“I expressed my deep concerns with numerous administrators not only about the harm this was inflicting on our staff but the cascading harm it would have on our diverse student body and families,” she said. “I believed it would be beneficial for the administration and district supervisor to receive constructive feedback from someone on the ground, to hear what was actually taking place in the building and the negative effect this training was having on teachers and staff.”
Her concerns were ignored. Then came the fateful last session of the training, which centered around a discussion of the racial breakdown of the divisions that make up employees and new hires.
“I commented on the topic, intending to use the phrase ‘people of color,’ but as I was talking, I said, ‘colored’ instead,” she said.
She immediately corrected herself and apologized for the slip, but at least one staff member would not accept her apology and began to berate her in front of her peers. Afterward, she was called to various meetings by district officials.
“They allowed some staff members to continue harassing me by calling me names … spreading rumors about me and even standing outside my office to intimidate me and anyone who came to talk with me.”
She reported the incidents to her superiors, but the district ignored her and let the harassment continue. The work environment became so hostile that Emily felt she had no choice but to leave the job she loved and had excelled at.
“As an administrator, I have a duty to advocate policies that protect my students and serve their and their family’s best interest. I took great pride in my responsibility to support faculty and staff under my charge by promoting a work environment of unity and acceptance bot hostility and division.”
In November 2021, Emily filed a charge of discrimination with the Virginia attorney general’s Office of Civil Rights and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, both of which declined to pursue the charge. In April, Alliance Defending Freedom took the case and filed suit on Emily’s behalf. The complaint requests a jury trial and relief in the form of back pay and compensatory and punitive damages.
“Instead of training faculty members to embrace students of all races, Albemarle County school officials are using a curriculum that promotes racial discrimination,” said ADF Senior Counsel Kate Anderson, director of the ADF Center for Parental Rights. “The training sets up a classic Catch-22: It encourages all staff members to ‘speak their truth,’ but when a white person like Emily raises concerns about the divisive content, she is deemed a racist in need of further ‘anti-racism’ instruction.”
If the lawsuit shines a light on other teachers and parents who are grappling with this subject, and if it can bring needed change, then her experience will have been worth it, Emily said.
“This transcends all ideologies, backgrounds and political persuasions,” she wrote in the New York Post editorial. “My deep desire is for public educators to model for every student entrusted to their care how to love and treat each other equally with the dignity and respect every child of God deserves.”
Photo: Albemarle County School District