In Minnesota, a group of Black parents are suing the city’s school system, claiming that their children experienced unfair treatment, racial insensitivity and bullying from classmates and faculty.
According to NBC News, the parents say that a teacher cut off a student’s dreadlock before throwing it in the trash.
“There’s been a lot of frustrated families in the Duluth Edison community. The families in this case, all they really ever wanted is for their children to be treated fairly at school,” said Rebekah Bailey, an attorney representing the plaintiffs.
“They fought long and hard to remedy their individual situations as best they could through the system,” she added. “This case was only filed when they exhausted those opportunities.”
Parents of the affected children—Kali Proctor, Desmond Gilbert, Katelyn Hansen and Roynetter Birgans—filed a lawsuit against Duluth Edison Charter Schools in April 2019. The lawsuit claims that the plaintiff’s children suffered discrimination at the school’s Raleigh and North Star Academy campuses in April 2019, and that the staff failed to take the necessary action. The parents are also requesting a change in the DECS system, as well as monetary compensation.
The lawsuit claims that white students at North Star Academy physically attacked a Black kindergartener, causing a visible bruise during a bus ride to school one morning. In 2017, one white student threatened to stab her in the eye because of the way she looked. The girl’s father, Gilbert, approached the school’s administration on multiple occasions to discuss his daughter’s mistreatment at the school, which only led to the staff either avoiding him, or not taking his claims seriously.
According to the suit, white students would call their Black classmates “monkey,” “negro,” and say that they “look like what’s inside a toilet,” NBC reports. It also said that white students would bite, kick, punch and spit on Black students, along with repeatedly calling them the N-word.
One Black student “was spit on so profusely by a white student that she had to change her clothes,” according to the lawsuit.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota, the National Women’s Law Center, and several other groups joined to file a brief last month in support of the families after Tim Sullivan, an attorney for DECS, asked the judge to dismiss the suit in August.
Sullivan told NBC News “the facts gathered demonstrate that there is neither a factual nor legal basis to support the claims asserted against my client.”
Here is a statement from DECS issued to NBC News:
In a statement to NBC News, Tammy Rackliffe, a spokesperson for DECS, declined to comment on the specific claims, but said the school system “strongly denies any allegation of discriminatory conduct and has vigorously defended itself against these false allegations.”
The statement continues: “There is nothing more important to Duluth Edison Charter Schools than the well-being of the students we educate every day. Duluth Edison Charter Schools has welcomed a diverse community of learners for nearly 25 years. Throughout that time, we have remained committed to creating a respectful, inclusive and safe learning environment for students, staff and our families. The core values that shape our school community include respect, compassion, justice, and integrity. We take seriously any concerns from students, parents and our community that do not reflect those values.”
Chrystal Gardner, who worked for the school as a liaison during these incidents, frequently witnessed the unfair treatment towards children of color at DECS.
“Right away, I realized that there was an issue with the N-word being used so loosely at the school. A lot of the black students felt like if they even raised this concern, that nothing’s going to happen,” Gardner told the Duluth News Tribune. “And I sympathize with them and the parents who were offended as well, especially upon my bringing awareness of how hurtful that term is.”
Gardner told NBC News: “At the school, I diligently provided support, resources, educational tools, and concepts from a cultural perspective. This was met with resistance, not always but more than enough,” she added. “Nonetheless with valiant persistence, I aspired beyond my adverse experience at the school to assure the students of color had received an equitable and reasonable education deprived of interference to their success.”
On multiple occasions, she alerted school officials of the racially charged incidents that occurred on campus. According to the lawsuit, White students drew a swastika on a school bus, but no one was ever punished. She recently settled her own lawsuit against DECS for wrongful termination, retaliation and discrimination after she was fired in 2018 for bringing attention to the racism that the students experienced.
Public Justice, a nonprofit firm working for the plaintiffs, said in a statement that “white harassers received little to no punishment, and black and biracial students are punished more harshly and more regularly than their white peers.” This trend is reflected statewide, because according to Minnesota’s Department of Human Rights, Black students are punished and suspended eight times as often as white students.
“It really breaks my heart because while all the other kids are dreaming of their life, he was dreaming of equality,” Proctor said in an interview with the News Tribune. “I wasn’t feeling that my voice was heard. They have policies and procedures in place, but I felt they really weren’t following through with what was being said.”