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Springfield schools sued over critical race theory request

Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt sued the Springfield school district on Tuesday over its response to his office’s requests for records related to critical race theory and anti-racist teaching.

Schmitt’s office submitted a Sunshine Law request in October seeking records from the district relating to how and whether it teaches critical race theory.

Schmitt, a Republican running for Senate, alleges in the lawsuit that the district broke the law by demanding payment for services other than copies before it would make public records available to his office. He also contends the district didn’t use hourly rates that would have kept the cost of fulfilling the request as low as possible, as required by law. The district initially required a deposit of $37,000 to process the request before it began searching for records, according to the lawsuit.

Schmitt’s lawsuit claims the district has used critical race theory in its teachers’ training for at least two years, citing as an example a training program in 2020 for about 170 teachers and staff that would “create shared understanding … around complex issues of systemic racism and xenophobia” and allow them to “receive tools on how to become anti-racist,” The Springfield News-Leader reported.

And Schmitt alleges the district has evaded efforts to determine whether or how critical race theory is being taught to its students.

District spokesman Stephen Hall said in a statement the district is disappointed that the attorney general is using his office to “attack public education.” He said the district focuses on equity but does not teach critical race theory.

“Ensuring our district is equitable and inclusive is our ethical responsibility to make SPS safe for all students and staff,” Hall said. “Any deliberate attempt to misrepresent this important work, especially for political purposes, is shameful indeed.”

Schmitt’s lawsuit comes amid a push by Republican-controlled legislatures to thwart certain ideas they associate with “critical race theory,” a framework legal scholars developed in the 1970s and 1980s that centers on the view that racism is systemic in the nation’s institutions and serves to maintain the dominance of whites in society.

It also comes a month after state Rep. Craig Fishel, a Springfield Republican, filed a Sunshine Law request with the district seeking three years’ worth of emails and documents for any reference to critical race theory and 21 other phrases.

The district requested at least $170,000 in response, prompting Fishel to accuse district officials of using “worst case scenarios” for their estimate.

Hall said in his statement that Schmitt and Fishel both filed requests that were “extraordinarily broad in scope and have the potential to divert hundreds, if not thousands, of hours of district staff time to search and review thousands of pages of documents.”

Schmitt’s lawsuit includes 13 counts. It asks the court to order the district to release all responsive records to the attorney general’s office and order $1,000 in penalties for any violation under one section of the Sunshine Law and $5,000 in penalties for violations under another section of the law.

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