A D65 drama teacher sued the district over antiracism programming. Here’s how it has unfolded so far.


Daily file photo by Patrick Svitek

The Evanston/Skokie District 65 Education Center, at 1500 McDaniel Ave. D65 Drama teacher Stacy Deemar is suing the district over its antiracism programming.

Christina van Waasbergen, Daily Senior Staffer

Evanston/Skokie School District 65 drama teacher Stacy Deemar filed a lawsuit in June challenging the district’s antiracism programming.

Deemar, who is white, is represented by the Southeastern Legal Foundation, a conservative law firm. She claims the district’s programming divides students and staff by race and discriminates against white people.

The district says Deemar has misrepresented its programming. It argues her lawsuit should be dismissed because she failed to explain how she has been personally injured by the programming.

Deemar’s Lawsuit

Deemar’s complaint alleges district staff participated in racial equity training sessions and that teachers were segregated into race-based “affinity groups” for certain programming. The complaint also says teachers were invited to attend monthly book studies on the book “White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism.” 

The complaint claims the district’s antiracism programming requires teachers to accept ideas like “to be less white is to be less racially oppressive” and “white identity is inherently racist.” It further asserts that the district has implemented such ideas in its curriculum.

“Fostering racial identities, promoting the idea that they are in conflict and perpetuating divisive stereotypes pits teachers and children against one another based on the color of their skin,” the complaint argues.

The district’s response and motion to dismiss

In July 2021, the district released a statement in response to the lawsuit, describing it as part of a national effort by the Southeastern Legal Foundation to target racial equity-based initiatives in K-12 schools.  

“The district will continue to fulfill the intent and promise of equal protection and nondiscrimination embodied in the Constitution and our nation’s civil rights laws,” the statement said. “Unfortunately, this lawsuit subverts these laws and values by taking out of context and misrepresenting our district’s lawful, sensitive and responsible professional learning and student-focused initiatives to advance the important work of building equity in our schools.”

The statement says Superintendent Devon Horton has received two voice messages containing racial slurs and threats of physical violence as a result of the media coverage surrounding the lawsuit.

Nicki Bazer, one of the lawyers representing the district, declined to comment on active litigation.

The next month, District 65 filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit. In a memorandum supporting the motion, the district argues Deemar failed to make a case for how she was personally harmed by its programming.

In October 2021, Deemar filed a response to the district’s motion to dismiss. The response argues the district has created a hostile environment for Deemar. 

“On a daily basis,” the response said, “the district reminds Plaintiff that she is white. And on a daily basis, the district assigns exclusively negative characteristics to whiteness, such as racism, oppression and evil.”

Critical race theory

This lawsuit is part of a larger nationwide debate over whether and how racism is discussed in schools. The Southeastern Legal Foundation is part of conservative activist Christopher Rufo’s legal coalition against critical race theory. 

Rufo is the architect of the current backlash against critical race theory, which he views as the basis for much of the antiracism programming in U.S. schools. 

Critical race theory is an academic theory that challenges mainstream American liberal ideas about racial justice. According to the Brookings Institute, critical race theory holds that racism is not simply a discriminatory view, but is structurally embedded in U.S. social institutions like the healthcare, education and criminal justice systems. 

Opponents of critical race theory argue that such notions unfairly divide people by race and make white people out to be inherently racist. 

This has caused an influx of bills across the country restricting how race is taught about in schools. Meanwhile, “critical race theory” has become a buzzword in conservative politics. Media Matters notes Fox News mentioned the phrase more than 1,900 times in less than four months.

Evanston community members react to the lawsuit

A petition supporting District 65 has gathered the signatures of 1,891 individuals and 98 businesses and organizations.

“We, the undersigned District 65 parents, caregivers and community members, support D65’s antiracism initiatives that seek to repair centuries of public school indoctrination into white supremacy ideology, a belief system that serves to justify and protect white political, economic, and cultural dominance,” the petition reads. “These initiatives are based on years of widely accepted research and aim to promote historical accuracy.”

Community members gathered in James Park last July for a protest in support of D65’s equity programming. About a dozen people spoke at the protest.

“White people have a responsibility to speak out and work for anti-racist change,” said Heather Sweeney, a former District 65 parent and co-founder of Evanston White Anti-Racism Group and Next Steps Antiracism Learning Studio. “This lawsuit does not represent us.”

Sweeney said that District 65’s antiracism programming has had positive effects for both students of color and white students.

“What my children already learned about themselves, the community and this country is an understanding about race and oppression that I only got in the last decade,” Sweeney said. “They are much better prepared to fight for justice because of the foundation they’re getting from Evanston schools today.”

Sarah Bogan, a former District 65 student and organizer for Evanston Fight for Black Lives, criticized Deemar for filing the lawsuit.

“If we fail to ensure that our teachers, and teachers everywhere, have had extensive anti-racist training and educating, we not only fail our students of color but also our white students,” Bogan said. “Stacy Deemar is the perfect example of the danger that not educating white people can cause.”

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @cvanwaasbergen

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