Scrutiny continued to mount this week surrounding the Liberated Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum Consortium after a group of Jewish parents and teachers in Los Angeles filed a federal lawsuit alleging violations of the Civil Rights Act and the U.S. Constitution.
The lawsuit, filed Thursday in federal court, takes aim at the controversial consulting group — which has faced criticism from Jewish community organizations in recent months — its key members, United Teachers Los Angeles, and the Los Angeles Unified School District. (The district is named as a “nominal defendant” but not a responsible party.)
The lawsuit represents the latest development in an ongoing saga surrounding the nonprofit consulting organization, which formed amid wrangling over California’s Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum as the state moved to require the subject be taught in high schools. Liberated aims to help schools implement a more authentically radical and anti-racist curriculum, in their view, than the one developed by California’s Department of Education.
Yet the group has faced headwinds. Earlier this week, Napa Valley schools told J. that after approving a contract with Liberated worth $38,000, the school district had decided not to move forward with the arrangement. In January, the Castro Valley school board saw roughly a dozen objections raised by Jewish community members and the Anti-Defamation League to a contract with the group, stemming from sharp anti-Israel statements (since deleted) on Liberated’s website. The school district approved a lucrative contract with the group anyway.
Plaintiffs in the federal lawsuit allege violations of federal protections against discrimination and of state statutes, including one enshrined last year that says ethnic studies shall not “directly or indirectly” promote bias against a religious group or nationality.
Liberated’s curriculum contains “rank discrimination,” the complaint alleges, “against Israelis and Middle Eastern and American Jews.”
The lawsuit was brought by attorneys with Judicial Watch, a D.C.-based conservative activist group, and the Deborah Project, a law office founded by Harvard Law professor Jesse Fried that provides pro-bono legal assistance to those facing discrimination “either because they are Jewish and/or pro-Israel.”
“Seeking to use California’s public education system to indoctrinate students with hatred and lies about some ethnicities is not acceptable or legal in California, even when those seeking to do it sincerely believe their own ethnic groups have been deeply wronged in the past,” wrote Lori Lowenthal Marcus of the Deborah Project in a statement to J.
The five plaintiffs are described as “Jewish, Zionist Los Angeles teachers who teach in the LAUSD and Jewish, Zionist parents of children who are students in the LAUSD.” They are listed as John and Jane Does.
In 55 pages the complaint lays out a worldview it asserts is supported by Liberated that demonizes Israel unfairly, unduly focuses on the Jewish state for criticism, downplays Israel in Jewish tradition, and attempts to conceal its anti-Israel curricula from public view.
To Liberated, the complaint alleges, “Zionism and the Jewish State, Israel, are evil, Israelis are oppressive and genocidal land thieves…Israel has no right to exist as the nation-state of the Jewish people; and the Jewish people have no right to a nation-state of their own.”As a key piece of evidence, the complaint points to a webpage taken from Liberated’s website called “Preparing to Teach Palestine: A Toolkit.” The webpage has since been removed, something the lawsuit holds as proof Liberated is concealing materials in violation of public disclosure laws.
The webpage is a primer on how to teach about Palestine in the classroom and avoid backlash from pro-Israel organizations. “Be Strategic!” it advises, suggesting that white teachers, for example, consider using their racial privilege to “take more risks.”
The page recommends weaving Palestinian issues into school coursework “so it’s not a multicultural add on,” for example, comparing Israeli treatment of Palestinians to “colonial control” over water at the U.S./Mexico border, comparing “forced removals in your city and East Jerusalem,” and comparing Manifest Destiny to the Promised Land.
“Then, make sure you can justify your curriculum with your state standards,” the page adds.
Leadership of the Liberated coalition did not respond to a request for comment. The nonprofit consulting organization has won support from the L.A. teachers’ union and from school boards in Castro Valley and Hayward.
Plaintiffs allege violations of the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment, of the First Amendment right to free exercise of religion, and of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act. They also allege multiple violations of state law, including ones championed by members of the California Legislative Jewish Caucus as “guardrails” inserted into the state’s new ethnic studies law.
The lawsuit asks a judge to find that the use of anti-Israel materials from Liberated violate the plaintiffs’ rights. It also asks the judge to prohibit district schools from teaching, for example, that “Zionism is not a Jewish belief,” or that “the State of Israel, as the Nation-State of the Jewish people, is illegitimate.”
The case has been assigned to Judge Fernando M. Olguin. The full complaint can be viewed here.