A group of parents is suing a Minnesota school system alleging that their Black children faced racist bullying and discrimination from students and staff, including racist slurs and physical attacks. One teacher allegedly cut off a student’s dreadlock and threw it in the trash, the parents say, reports NBC BLK.
Kali Proctor, Katelyn Hansen, Roynetter Birgans and Desmond Gilbert are seeking monetary compensation and demanding systemic changes at Duluth Edison Charter Schools for the experiences their elementary and middle school-age children endured. The suit, filed in April 2019, details a culture of racism at the school’s Raleigh and North Star Academy campuses and school officials’ refusal to address it.
“There’s been a lot of frustrated families in the Duluth Edison community,” said Rebekah Bailey, an attorney representing the parents. “The families in this case, all they really ever wanted is for their children to be treated fairly at school. They fought long and hard to remedy their individual situations as best they could through the system. This case was only filed when they exhausted those opportunities.”
Last month, at least two dozen nonprofit advocacy groups joined to file an amicus brief in support of the children and the lawsuit after an attorney for DECS requested to have the suit dismissed. The groups include the American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota, the National Women’s Law Center and many others.
Tim Sullivan, an attorney for DECS, told NBC News his office filed the request in August because “the facts gathered demonstrate that there is neither a factual nor legal basis to support the claims asserted against my client.”
The lawsuit said that White students bit, punched, kicked, pinched and spit on Black students and repeatedly called them the N-word. The White classmates also taunted them, calling them “negro” or “monkey” and telling them they “look like what’s inside a toilet.”
In 2017, a White student at North Star Academy threatened to stab a Black kindergartner in the eye with a screwdriver because she looked “different,” the lawsuit said. White students allegedly pinched and kicked the girl, who is biracial, on several occasions. And, during one bus ride to school, an older White student punched the girl so hard, she had a bruise on her rib, the suit states.
The girl’s father, Gilbert, approached school officials several times, demanding to meet and discuss the discrimination only to have staff avoid him and fail to “take any meaningful action,” according to the lawsuit.
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.”
According to the lawsuit, one Black student “was spit on so profusely by a white student that she had to change her clothes.”