Legal Issues Cloud Missouri School District’s Race-Based Hiring

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A Missouri school district intends to double its percentage of minority teachers even as the state’s attorney general has warned that private companies that racially discriminate in hiring face legal action. 

Webster Groves School District’s teaching and administrative staff should match the racial demographics of its student body, according to the Missouri school system’s strategic plan. The public school district implemented its plan this winter and aims to accomplish listed goals within three years. 

One objective of Webster Groves, a school system in the suburbs of St. Louis, is to “attract, support, and retain exceptionally talented staff who at minimum reflect the diversity of our student population.”

In the 2023-2024 school year, 11% of teachers and administrators for Webster Groves are nonwhite, an increase of 4 percentage points from 7% nonwhite in the 2017-2018 school year.

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The school district would have to increase the percentage of nonwhite teachers to 22.2% to match the student body, according to documents posted online for the Dec. 13 meeting of the Webster Groves school board.

This would require an overall increase of 11 percentage points in minority teachers for Webster Groves at a time when only 9% of all Missouri teachers are nonwhite. Critics of the plan say the district would have to ramp up illegal, race-based hiring to meet the goal. 

When The Daily Signal asked about the goal, Webster Groves Communications Director Derek Duncan said the school district recognizes “the importance of increasing staff representation to better align with our student body” and is “dedicated to implementing strategic initiatives.”

“These efforts include actively seeking qualified candidates from diverse backgrounds through hosting events, strategically advertising positions, and creating multiple opportunities for interaction,” Duncan told The Daily Signal. 

Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey, a Republican, joined 12 other state attorneys general in signing a letter to Fortune 100 CEOs in July reminding the employers of laws against race-based discrimination in hiring. 

“Treating people differently because of the color of their skin, even for benign purposes, is unlawful and wrong,” the letter to leading CEOs from state attorneys general says. “Companies that engage in racial discrimination should and will face serious legal consequences.”

The 13 attorneys general pledged to “vigorously” enforce the law against race-based employment as “the chief law enforcement officers of our respective states.” 

“Well-intentioned racial discrimination is just as illegal as invidious discrimination,” their letter continues. 

Bailey’s office did not respond to The Daily Signal’s request for comment about whether Webster Groves could follow state and federal law despite the race-based hiring goal. 

Although it is legal to use a racial quota as a goal, it is unlawful to take employment action of any kind to reach or maintain that quota, noted GianCarlo Canaparo, senior legal fellow in The Heritage Foundation’s Meese Center for Legal and Judicial Studies. 

“Statements like this are good evidence that the district is acting with discriminatory intent, so the state and federal governments should investigate the district to make sure it’s complying with civil rights laws,” Canaparo told The Daily Signal. 

Any “well-intentioned” racial discrimination is equally illegal to unjust discrimination, Bailey and the other attorneys general say in the letter. 

Quoting the Supreme Court’s 2007 decision in Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District No. 1, the law enforcement officers wrote: “The ‘argument that different rules should govern racial classifications designed to include rather than exclude is not new; it has been repeatedly pressed in the past, and has been repeatedly rejected.’” 

Duncan told The Daily Signal that he doesn’t believe Webster Groves’ goal is a racial quota.

“We are simply looking at hiring staff that reflect the diversity of our school community so that all students can succeed,” the school system’s spokesman said. 

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