Pennsylvania School Districts, Educators & Families Sue State Education Department Over “Woke” Guidelines

April 20, 2023
Tom Ciesielka

Thomas More Society Defending Against Move to Force Socio-Political Activism into Curriculum

Three western Pennsylvania school districts, along with educators, parents, and students are suing the Pennsylvania Department of Education for unconstitutionally forcing educators to espouse and endorse vague socio-political beliefs that are unrelated to the state approved academic standards – and doing so in violation of Pennsylvania’s Regulatory Review Act. In response to the Culturally-Relevant and Sustaining Education (CR-SE) Program Framework Guidelines issued in November 2022 by the state’s education department, the Thomas More Society attorneys filed suit on behalf of the school boards, teachers, and families, in Pennsylvania court on April 17, 2023.

“In short, the Secretary of Education has issued a regulation without legal authority that mandates adherence to the Administration’s ideological tenets,” explained attorney Thomas Breth, Thomas More Society Special Counsel. “They are forcing educators to affirm their belief in these ideological tenets and to impose the same upon their students. It’s a blatant attempt to impose ‘woke’ activism into school curriculum.”

“The litigation against the Department of Education was prompted by new CRSE Guidelines that required educators to disrupt harmful institutional practices, policies, and norms by advocating and engaging in efforts to rewrite policies, change practices, and raise awareness; design learning experiences and spaces for learners to identify and question economic, political, and social power structures in the school, community, nation, and world; understand and honor the ways in which culture influences verbal and nonverbal communication; believe that all learners have a choice and a right to practice the language(s) of their culture; and, believe and acknowledge that microaggressions are real and take steps to educate themselves about the subtle and obvious ways in which they are used to harm and invalidate the existence of others.

“Unlike the curriculum developed and implemented by local school boards and superintendents, this guidance is not tied back to the educational standards in Pennsylvania,” shared Breth, “which are focused on developing skills in communication, thinking and learning, along with academic literacy, language arts, mathematics, science, technology, social studies, health, physical education, and the arts.”

Breth added that the Guidelines definition of the term “microaggression” is “a comment or action that subtly and often unconsciously or unintentionally expresses a prejudiced attitude toward a member of a marginalized group” He continued, “The regulation of alleged ‘microaggressions’ constitute a content-based infringement upon the educators’ and students’ right to free speech secured by the United States and Pennsylvania Constitutions. … The Department of Education seeks to restrict, prohibit, and eliminate any speech that is subjectively perceived as not in conformity with the ideological tenets of the Department. … What’s next, loyalty oaths?”

Read the Petition for Review filed on April 17, 2023, by the Thomas More Society, in the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania, on behalf of the Laurel, Mars Area, and Penncrest School Districts, along with multiple named educators, parents, and students, in Laurel School District et al. v. Pennsylvania School District, et al. here.

Read the Pennsylvania Department of Education’s Culturally-Relevant and Sustaining Education (CR-SE) Program Framework Guidelines adopted April 23, 2022, by the Pennsylvania Department of Education here.