Williamson v. Heritage Preschools LLC and Heritage Preschools of Homewood LLC

Williamson v. Heritage Preschools LLC and Heritage Preschools of Homewood LLC

In 2021, Lee Williamson and Aletta Williamson enrolled J.W., their Black and biracial toddler, in Heritage Preschoolsan overwhelmingly white, private Christian preschool system in Alabama. For his first two years, J.W. had a positive experience at Heritage and rarely got into trouble. But things quickly changed when the school advanced J.W., who was by then two years old, to a new teacher’s classroom, where he was the only Black student. Immediately, that white teacher, Ms. Harmon, began disciplining J.W. for ordinary toddler behavior, such as having trouble standing in line, for which she did not write up non-Black students. During one two-week period, the teacher “wrote up” J.W. thirty times. J.W. grew to dread coming to school. An assistant teacher in the classroom, concerned about this excessive discipline, informed J.W.’s parents that she feared Ms. Harmon was singling out J.W. because of his race.

Soon after, Heritage placed J.W. on probation. During this period, Ms. Harmon’s reports continued to pour in, and she pressured others to discipline J.W. too. Based on these reports, Heritage expelled J.W. and gave the Williamson two weeks to find an alternative option for his education and care. When J.W.’s mom informed Heritage administrators that she might report her concerns to a civil rights agency, the school revoked the two-week grace period and expelled J.W. immediately.

J.W. was not the only child to experience racially discriminatory discipline at Heritage. Other Black families have similar stories. And administrators have known about this problem for years. Yet the school has allowed the discrimination to continue.

In February 2024, the Williamsons sued Heritage Preschools and Heritage’s Homewood facility on behalf of themselves and their son. They filed the lawsuit under 42 U.S.C. § 1981, a statute passed after the Civil War to end race discrimination in contracts. They allege that, by subjecting J.W. to racially discriminatory discipline, Heritage interfered with their contract for childcare and educational services, and that Heritage retaliated against them for complaining about discrimination.

This case is pending in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama.

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