Michelle Obama’s brother Craig Robinson and wife Kelly have filed an anti-discrimination lawsuit against the Milwaukee private school that essentially expelled their two young sons prior to the 2021-2022 school year. The suit charges racial bias against the University School of Milwaukee where the 11-year-old and 9-year-old boys had been exemplary 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, which became apparent when their sons began virtual learning during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Shortly after their complaints to USM, the Robinsons say, their children were dismissed from the school.
“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 a local Milwaukee news station.
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.”
After the students’ mother Kelly Robinson lodged multiple complaints bias in class assignments and complained about “harmful content toward underrepresented students,” school officials were in some cases slow to respond and ultimately negligent in taking action to address the Robinson’s concerns other too take punitive action against the two effected students.
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].”
The lawsuit contends that “the school acted impermissibly to silence and to retaliate against those adversely affected by, and raising concerns about, the school’s unfair treatment of students of color and underrepresented students.”
USM however counters that the Robinsons used their clout to force the issue and bullied their administration and teachers.
“We can tell you that USM’s enrollment decisions had nothing to do with complaints of inequity or discrimination and we intend to vigorously defend the school against any claim to the contrary,” reads the statement obtained by CNN.
“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.”
As an example of the racist practices at USM, the Robinsons also said in their lawsuit that fourth-graders were required to reenact the Underground Railroad where students had to run and hide while the faculty acted like “slave catchers.” They’ve since abandoned the practice.