Just how many times must a student tell you that your school has a race problem before you believe her?
Earlier this month, a senior at Elk Grove High School came forward to the Sacramento Bee about experiencing repeated racial harassment at her high school. The school had recently garnered national attention because one of its students posted a viral Snapchat video that showed her gleefully referring to black people as “niggers.” In one video, the teen said, to the horror and delight of a nearby friend, “When the police were killing all those black people, I was so happy because I was like, ‘Fuck black people; go die, bitches.”
Rachael Francois, who attends Elk Grove, said that the incident was not shocking. For months, she and other students had reported anti-black harassment they experienced at the Sacramento, Calif.-area school to school administrators, to little avail.
Now another Sacramento high school is coming under fire amid claims that it repeatedly ignored racial abuse on its campus. A pair of teens have filed a civil rights complaint against Mira Loma High School, claiming that educators ignored repeated complaints about racial harassment in an elite college-prep program. The repeated racial abuse, the teens claim, drove them from the rigorous academic course.
As the Sacramento Bee reports, the complaint was filed on behalf of Makayla Madkins and De’Ajhane Caldwell, two teens who attended the Sacramento school. The two, who are cousins, were both enrolled in the school’s prestigious International Baccalaureate program, where the racism allegedly occurred.
But the individual harassment is only one part of the claim, which is now being investigated by the U.S. Department of Education. The complaint says that the problems were systemic: Not only did school officials do nothing when the racist abuse was brought to their attention, but the complaint alleges that Mira Loma routinely suspends black students at higher rates than the rest of its student population, and frequently denies them access to educational opportunities.
The complaint was filed in December. On Tuesday the San Juan Unified School District acknowledged that it “had received a letter from the federal Office of Civil Rights requesting information,” the Bee reports.
De’Ahjane and Makayla attribute the harassment to one classmate, whom they identify in the complaint as a Persian boy, naming him by the initials “V.B.” De’Ahjane claims that V.B., with whom she shared a Spanish class, called her a “nigger” in class as often as twice a week.
From the Sacramento Bee:
Often, when [De’Ahjane] raised her hand in class to speak, the boy would say that black people are dumb, referring to her with the N-word, the complaint charges. He also used sexually derogatory language, said Makayla Madkins’s sister Chardonnay Madkins, a 2010 graduate of the IB program.
De’Ahjane’s teacher, the complaint alleges, did nothing.
The complaint says the Spanish teacher heard the boy’s comments on several occasions, but intervened only once. The teacher sent him to the office after he referred to Caldwell as “a N-word” while he was arguing with another student. Caldwell said the teacher never spoke to her about the incident even after sending V.B. out of the room.
The boy returned to class just five minutes after he left and continued harassing her through the school year, according to the complaint.
While this in-class harassment was happening, De’Ahjane’s cousin Makayla was being harassed by V.B. online.
Madkins, 17, objected to the use of derogatory language against mentally impaired people that V.B.’s sister, also a Mira Loma student, had posted on Instagram, the complaint says. In response, Madkins said in an interview, V.B. called her the N-word in a social media post.
V.B. also called a friend of Madkins’ a “crippled ass N-word” on her Instagram account and called other students who complained about his post “N-words,” the complaint alleges. The online harassment accelerated with the boy and his friends adding sexual slurs about the girls to their derogatory posts on Instagram and Twitter.
Although the girls took screenshots of the comments and shared them with school administrators, school officials did nothing to stop the harassment, the girls say. In the complaint, Makayla’s mother, Latrice Madkins, says that she made repeated attempts to speak with school administrators about the racist bullying but was repeatedly turned down.
When they did finally meet, Mira Loma’s vice principal promised that there would be an investigation and that administrators would speak to teachers who had failed to address the problems. Promises were also made to develop “better policies and procedures” to handle student complains, the Bee reports.
But the girls say that none of that actually happened. In fact, after the meeting, the vice principal sat in on a Spanish class to monitor De’Ahjane, not her tormentor. V.B. was never removed from the class, as was requested, and at one point was moved to a seat directly behind De’Ahjane.
It’s important to note the systemic quality of these allegations. The complaint details how black students at Mira Loma, for example, were suspended at three times California’s statewide rate last year (the school suspended 28 percent of its black students). These students were three times more likely to be suspended than their Latinx peers, four times more likely than their white classmates and 16 times more likely than Asian students.
And not only were black students punished at higher rates, but they were also shut out of key opportunities for educational advancement, like the IB program. As the Bee points out, black students make up 10 percent of the school’s population but only 2 percent of the prestigious academic program.
While Mira Loma’s numbers may be particularly egregious, they are in no way unique. It’s necessary to view the case of this high school, nestled in what’s assumed to be one of the most progressive areas in the nation, in this context: For many educational institutions, this is business as usual.
But it’s also important to remember how systemic problems—the function of both institutional neglect and malfeasance—have massive consequences for individual lives. It’s difficult to be accepted into an IB program, and completing one has a major effect on a student’s academic career: Apart from making students more attractive to colleges, if a student scores high enough on an end-of-course IB exam, colleges can offer that student credit for introductory courses. With a college-application process that is increasingly competitive, and with college itself increasingly expensive, these sorts of advantages are huge for students.
De’Ahjane won’t have that opportunity. Citing the abuse and the school’s handling of it, she left Mira Loma at the end of the 2016-2017 school year. She’s now taking online courses to complete her high school diploma.
“It kind of put me off track,” De’Ahjane told the Bee. “I am not really the kind of person for homeschool ... that kind of messed me up, but I am working through it.”