The central offices of Portland Public Schools on Cumberland Avenue. Credit: Seth Koenig / BDN

A conservative group has filed a federal civil rights complaint accusing Portland Public Schools of discrimination for offering a staff support group for people of color.

In its complaint to the U.S. Department of Education, Parents Defending Education, a Virginia-based organization that claims it opposes “racial discrimination” and “political indoctrination,” said the description for the “BIPOC Community Circle” means that the group is not open to all.

The support group welcomes all Black, Indigenous, Asian, Middle-Eastern, Latino and mixed-race staff members. It began in 2017, according to a school district website.

The website includes two articles about separatism and why people of color need spaces without white people. The articles explain that by having these separate spaces, it allows marginalized groups to speak freely and openly without judgment about their experiences.

The Virginia-based organization is asking the U.S. Department of Education to “promptly investigate the allegations in this complaint, act swiftly to remedy unlawful policies and practices, and order appropriate relief.”

Nearly 50 percent of students identify as Black, Indigenous or people of color. And as of December 2021, 11 percent of staff identified as Black, Indigenous or people of color, according to Portland Public Schools.

“We are not aware of the complaint but have been asked about it by media outlets. As we have said to them, if the USDOE contacts us to investigate the complaint, we will cooperate fully. We are proud of our efforts to support our marginalized student and staff communities and will be happy to discuss them with the USDOE should they decide to pursue this matter,” Portland Public Schools said in a statement.