Former President Barack Obama’s brother-in-law and sister-in-law have filed a lawsuit against an elite private school in River Hills.
Craig Robinson, and his wife Kelly, filed their lawsuit against the University School of Milwaukee (USM).
It alleges that the school expelled the couple’s two young sons after the Robinsons raised concerns about racial and socio-economic bias at the school.
“They retaliated, kicking two young children out of school,” Craig Robinson told WISN 12 News.
University School of Milwaukee is considered one of the top private schools in America.
In a YouTube video the school posted at the start of the school year, they share their key ideals.
“On a culture built upon the common trust, we are a diverse community of learners, leaders and citizens, and we have much to offer one another,” the video says.
The Robinsons’ lawsuit alleges racism and breach of contract from two of its most famous parents.
The lawsuit said administrators kicked their children out of the pre-K through 12th-grade school after the parents complained about racial discrimination.
The Robinsons said the school retaliated against their family after they “submitted two separate reports in January and March 2021” to the school, concerned about what they felt was racial and ethnic stereotypes in virtual classroom assignments.
After conversations and emails, the parents said they were stunned on April 14, 2021, when the school told them it was dismissing their fifth-grade student and then their third-grade student on June 21, 2021.
The complaint cited a letter the school wrote that claimed the parents “repeatedly engaged in disrespectful and demanding communications with and about our teachers and administrators.
“It has only become more evident that there has been a complete breakdown in your family’s trust of and respect for USM,” the letter said.
The Robinson students were 9 and 11 years old at the time.
The school even said they were model students, calling them “portraits of a graduate.”
But now, the school said they’ll need to graduate somewhere else.
The head of school, Steve Hancock, sent a letter to the parents about the lawsuit.
He said he could not comment on the specifics of the case.
“However, 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,” Hancock’s letter read. “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.”
He said the school was committed to justice, equity, diversity and inclusion and does not tolerate discrimination.
“We encourage any member of our community who believes they have experienced or witnessed discrimination to promptly report it,” Hancock wrote. “Consistent with our established and enforced policies, all such reports will be taken seriously. We actively encourage and highly value feedback from all our constituents regarding our educational programming. It is through continuously examining our practices and curriculum that we remain a strong institution.”
The Robinsons spoke about the lawsuit with Robin Roberts on ‘Good Morning America.’
“The use of the word ‘plantation’ and things of that nature,” Craig Robinson said of the assignments his students received during COVID-19. “In addition to the racial and ethnic stereotypes, there was an insensitivity to socioeconomic status and as well as a disregard for the children who weren’t physically in the classroom.”
Craig Robinson said he shared his concerns with the school and offered suggestions about the assignments.
“This story resonated with many families in the community, and former University (School) of Milwaukee families reached out to us and wasn’t aware of how far-reaching it was and heard stories of other families being retaliated against,” Kelly Robinson told Roberts. “We also heard about other bias that has been shared over the years and while we heard biases and what we would like to point out is the egregious nature in which they handled this with us and with our young boys, but one of the stories that we weren’t made aware of was that just as recent as 10 years ago.”
She said students reenacted the underground railroad and dressed up as slaves and ran through the school in the dark and teachers were the slave masters who captured the students.
Kelly Robinson went on to tell Roberts white students used the “n-word” and were not punished.
“This is hard. This is hard on all of us, but in particular on these children,” Kelly Robinson said.
The Robinsons said nearly 40 other families have reached out to them.
“Once former and current parents came out and let us know that they had been through something similar, we felt obligated to not let this happen to folks moving forward,” Craig Robinson said.
The school shared a letter with WISN 12 News that it sent to the school community.
It says, in part, “When such parental conduct threatens the educational environment we have created, we have no choice but to take action.”
“They use the words bullying and harassment to teachers and staff. How do you respond to that?” WISN 12 News reporter Hillary Mintz asked the Robinsons.
“Now the tall black guy can’t advocate for his kids without being called a bully,” Craig Robinson said.
The school wouldn’t comment on specifics about the Robinsons’ allegations. It has 45 days to formally respond to the lawsuit.
The school did say terminating an enrollment contract isn’t unprecedented, but it is a last resort option.