A national conservative group known for making civil rights complaints against schools across the country has filed one against Portland Public Schools over the district’s support group for staff members of color.

Parents Defending Education filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education’s Civil Rights division against the district on Jan. 3, regarding an affinity group for all Black, Indigenous, Asian, Middle-Eastern, Latinx and mixed-race staff members at Portland Public Schools.

According to the district’s website, the BIPOC Community Circle was formed in 2017. It offers regular social gatherings, career and emotional support, and advocacy. It’s not clear who belongs to the group, or how often it meets.

Parents Defending Education was granted 501(c)(3) nonprofit status last July, but has not yet filed any required public tax documents with the IRS. The group is based in Arlington, Virginia, and has filed complaints with the same office for an array of issues, including teachings on race, sexual orientation and gender identity. Parents Defending Education wrote in its complaint that the BIPOC group’s description does not make participation “open to all,” and that its existence serves to “further underscore that not all staff members would be welcome,” and that such exclusion is based solely on an individual’s race.

The group’s complaint does not provide specific examples of any individual who is being excluded from the group, but references an article linked to on the Portland schools’ website, “Why People of Color Need Spaces without White People.

“We ask that the Department promptly investigate the allegations in this complaint, act swiftly to remedy unlawful policies and practices, and order appropriate relief,” Nicole Neily, the president and founder of Parents Defending Education, wrote in the Jan. 3 complaint. Neily also is the founder of Speech First, an organization that has filed a number of lawsuits over college free speech cases, and a contributor to The Federalist Society, according to her bio on the Parents Defending Education website.


Portland Schools has not been contacted by the Department of Education related to the complaint, according to a written statement Tuesday from outgoing Superintendent Xavier Botana. Instead, the district learned of the complaint from various media outlets.

“If the USDOE contacts us to investigate the complaint, we will cooperate fully,” Botana said. “We are proud of our efforts to support our marginalized student and staff communities and will be happy to discuss them with the USDOE should they decide to pursue this matter.”

The complaint also references an incident from 2015, when the Department of Education investigated a Chicago school district after parents filed a similar complaint regarding a Black Lives Matter assembly the school held for Black students.

The Department of Education found “sufficient evidence to support the allegation” that the school district didn’t comply with Title VI of the Equal Protection Clause, which requires “equal access to a recipient’s education programs, benefits and services without regard to race, color or national origin.”


On the same day Parents Defending Education filed its complaint against Portland Public Schools, the nonprofit also sent complaints about similar groups for BIPOC students at schools in Shelburne, Vermont, and Ashland, Oregon. Anyone can file a complaint with the department’s Office of Civil Rights.

The group also has helped launch lawsuits against school districts in other states. In August, Parents Defending Education filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court against an Iowa school district over a policy to support transgender students by requiring staff to use their preferred names and pronouns. Parents Defending Education said it sued on behalf of seven unnamed parents, who allege the school’s policy “authorizes children to make fundamentally important decisions concerning their gender identity without any parental involvement.”

An email to an address listed on the Parents Defending Education website seeking more information about how the group learned of Portland’s BIPOC Community Circle was not returned Tuesday.

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