The brother and sister-in-law of former first lady Michelle Obama have filed a lawsuit against a Milwaukee private school over issues of inclusiveness and alleged racial bias.
In a 25-page lawsuit filed Monday in a Wisconsin circuit court, Craig and Kelly Robinson argue that the University School of Milwaukee (USM) expelled their two sons, who were 11 and 9 years old, despite the two being “model, high-achieving students.”
In the lawsuit, the Robinsons say USM terminated their sons’ enrollment in 2021 following concerns the couple raised about the school’s treatment of its students of color.
Additionally, the parents say they raised concerns to the school about what they say was USM’s failure to “provide the supportive, inclusive” learning environment that was promised, according to the lawsuit.
Shortly after their complaints to USM, the Robinsons say, their children were dismissed from the school.
In an interview with Milwaukee TV station TMJ4, Craig Robinson said that he and his wife raised their concerns to USM after their two sons started attending school virtually during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“That opened up a window into the classroom, and what we saw was a repeated use of racial and ethnic stereotypes in actual assignments, a disregard for children who weren’t physically in the classroom and an insensitivity to socioeconomic status,” Craig told TMJ4.
According to Craig Robinson, he and his wife raised their concerns about the alleged biases but did not think that the matter would escalate as severely as it did.
In the suit, the Robinsons argue they alerted USM faculty and staff in November 2020 that some of the language included in their children’s various worksheets and projects was “offensive to persons of color, persons with disabilities, indigenous Americans and other underrepresented students.”
In January 2021, Kelly Robinson submitted a bias incident report through USM’s “Bias Incident Reporting System” about assignments that included “harmful content toward underrepresented students,” according to the suit.
Kelly Robinson filed a second report two months later about “similarly concerning language” in a different class assignment.
The lawsuit argues that USM acknowledged receipt of the reports but that school officials did not take further action to address them. The Robinsons’ oldest son was denied reenrollment in April 2021, while the youngest was denied reenrollment in June 2021, according to the lawsuit.
The Robinsons told TMJ4 they originally chose USM for their sons due to the school’s commitment to diversity and inclusion. However, after this incident, they feel as though it was lip service.
“I thought their bias incident reporting system was a way for them to help in changing the culture and understanding that there are biases, because there are people who are reporting them,” Craig Robinson told TMJ4. “It was actually turned against us in the end, and now I’ve learned that there is no longer a bias incident reporting system at [USM].”
“This is an important and unfortunate lawsuit to have to file. One would have hoped that USM would have taken the concerns from the Robinsons, who have been great allies, and try to make corrections that work for the benefit of all the students,” Kimberley Motley, the attorney representing the Robinsons, told NPR.
The University School of Milwaukee said in a statement to the school community that it could not comment on the specifics related to the lawsuit. However, the school said the Robinson children’s removal was not because of their parents’ complaints of bias:
“We cannot and will not tolerate persistently disrespectful, bullying, or harassing behavior directed at our devoted and hardworking teachers and administrators. Such conduct that makes faculty feel unsafe not only violates our Common Trust pledge and Parent-School Partnership, but also interferes with USM’s operations and precludes a positive and constructive working relationship between the school and the families we proudly serve. When such parental conduct threatens the educational environment we have created, we have no choice but to take action.”