I’m suing my teachers’ union to end segregation on its board


Originally published in The Hill.

Nearly 60 years ago, the the Civil Rights Act promised an end to the segregation that had plagued America. Unfortunately, the teachers’ union to which I belong has resuscitated that shameful practice, and so I’m fighting it in court

I grew up in suburban Sacramento’s Elk Grove Unified School District. I learned to read in one of its original 1940s-era classrooms, skinned my knees on its playgrounds and learned to drive in the parking lot at the high school where I now teach history.

My mother recently retired from the district. My kids take classes from my colleagues down the road. My roots here run deep.

I want what is best for my children, students and community. This is why I refuse to stand by as my union racially segregates its membership and my district mandates regressive diversity, equity and inclusion training.

I have spent years struggling to convince both organizations to treat students and staff as individuals irrespective of race. But when my own union racially disqualified me from elected office, I felt compelled to take legal action. To run for a union board position, I had to check a box on a Google form “self-identify[ing]” as a person of color.

The paperwork allowed candidates from a laundry list of identities that our DEI training labeled as “victims.” Inclusive as it was, there was no room for a white educator like me. I was ineligible because my ethnicity literally did not check the right box.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 explicitly forbids labor organizations from segregating employees on the basis of race. Yet my local union, with approval from the California Teachers Association, brazenly amended its rules to create a “BIPOC” (short for “Black, indigenous, person of color”) board seat, thereby racially segregating its members and limiting their rights. After this unprecedented move, white educators are eligible for fewer leadership positions than other members.

The union’s decision to ignore decades of civil rights law was a team effort. Beginning in 2021, union officials colluded with the district to mandate 28 hours of DEI training for all employees. The ideology behind these trainings also underpins my union’s embrace of racial segregation and the evaluation of people based on perceived grievances rather than merit.

As an educator, I know that diverse perspectives can help us see hidden truths. But DEI’s false book-jacket diversity threatens to blind us all. Its racialist approach preaches that each person’s moral worth can be determined by identity equations. Add up your checked victimhood-boxes and subtract whatever privilege you have.

In one of my school district’s mandated trainings, “whiteness scholar” Robin DiAngelo declares, “As a result of being raised as a white person in this society, I have a racist world view. I have deep racist biases[.]”

In foisting this dogma on employees, the district not only failed to include opposing viewpoints but explicitly endorsed this anti-white racism and even offered tips on how to “educate fellow white people.”

Put simply, the district is training my colleagues to view myself and my children as racially inferior.

What’s more, the training embraces critical race theory. It argues explicitly that meritocracy and color-blindness are racist myths and that every misunderstanding is a microaggression. The implied solution? Turn our students into offense-seeking advocates for DEI’s divisive political agenda.

To protect my children and community from this destructive ideology, I fought back — first with a letter to the school board, then by filing an official grievance. Unfortunately, the union is the final arbiter in that process. It not only refused my grievance but sought to re-educate me.

One union official actually accused me of committing a microaggression because I insisted on treating another official as an individual rather than a person of color. Apparently, I had taken too literally Martin Luther King’s admonition to judge people by the content of their character rather than the color of their skin.

Dismissed by my union, I resolved to join its board and change it from within. So, when union officials used race to bar members who look like me from running, I enlisted the Fairness Center’s help to file a federal lawsuit and end the union’s discrimination.

My union and district believe that it is more important for leadership to “look like” its members rather than genuinely represent their interests — that diversity is and must be only skin deep. I believe that no one should have fewer rights because they don’t check the appropriate racial boxes. I am confident the courts will agree.

Isaac Newman teaches history in California’s Elk Grove Unified School District.

The author’s viewpoints are their own and do not necessarily represent those of the Fairness Center.