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Wellesley school district settles suit by conservative group over student affinity groups

A Massachusetts school district has settled a federal lawsuit challenging its creation of affinity groups for Black, Latinx, Asian and other students of color.

Parents Defending Education has agreed to drop its suit while Wellesley Public Schools will make it clear that the groups are open to any and all students, according to an agreement filed in Boston federal court on Monday.

The affinity groups launched last school year as a part of the suburban Boston district's five-year, "diversity, equity and inclusion" plan. The district at the time said the groups were an "opportunity for people within an identity group to openly share their experiences without risk of feeling like they will offend someone from another group, and without another group's voices."

But Parents Defending Education argued in its October suit that the policies violated students' First and 14th Amendment rights in the affluent, majority white district.

"Because racial affinity groups divide children by race, these groups foster racial division and do far more harm than good," the group argued in its complaint.

The right-leaning organization also said the district adopted a policy in which it "punishes student speech that is `biased,' which includes any student speech that is 'offensive,' has an 'impact' on others, 'treats another person differently,' or 'demonstrates conscious or unconscious bias,' according to its complaint.

The national organization, which has filed similar complaints in Ohio and other states, describes itself as a national group formed to "prevent the politicization of K-12 education, including government attempts to force students into divisive identity groups and to silence students who express opposing views."

It said it brought the Massachusetts litigation on behalf of Wellesley parents who are identified in the suit only as "Parents A, B, C, D, and E."

The organization said the affinity groups harmed the children of the unnamed parents by "making them highly conscious of race during their interactions with their teachers and fellow classmates and making them feel like they were part of the 'problem' solely because of their skin color."

Wellesley school officials didn't respond to an email seeking comment Tuesday.

Nicole Neily, founder of Parents Defending Education, said in a statement that the agreement "sends a clear message that racially segregating students in public schools is wrong — and there will be consequences."

The organization also listed the Massachusetts communities of Newton and Milton among other districts nationally with similar affinity groups, including school systems in a number of other states.

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