Kansas City-area family sues schools after being harassed

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Kearney High School

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Editor’s Note: This story contains graphic and offensive language.

As a freshman at Kearney High School, a black student was told by a white classmate that she would make “all the white people in Kearney beat your ass.”

When a teacher overheard the conversation, the black student was sent to the principal’s office. There, the principal told him to ignore the white student’s conduct because she was poorer than him, according to a lawsuit filed against the district in Clay County Circuit Court this month.

It was just one of a series of incidents where the student was racially targeted and harassed while enrolled in school, according to the lawsuit. The student’s family claims administrators were aware of the discrimination and failed to take steps to effectively protect the student and “tacitly condoned and tolerated racial harassment”.

The lawsuit says the student was routinely subjected to white classmates hurling racial slurs at him, making monkey noises and sending threatening messages.

In 2019, two white male high school students sent her pictures of themselves posing with a Confederate flag during class time, with a message that read, “Heritage but mostly hate brotha…” The student’s mother reported the incident to the administration, according to the suit.

The student received further threatening messages which read: ‘I hope I see your black ass in the tree. Alabama wind chime style” and “I hope you and your family of monkeys get hopped by all the white people in Kearney.”

Unable to bear the continual harassment, the family kicked the student out of school. The student is only referred to by his initials in court documents because he is a minor.

“This family wants justice, and they want the schools in Kearney to be as good as possible. And that means rooting out racism,” family attorney Dan Curry said in an email to The Star. “Applicant transferred to another district and prospered and graduated. But no child should have to experience sustained racial harassment at school, and it affected my client immediately and viscerally.

Kearney School District officials declined to comment on ongoing litigation.

“The district will respond appropriately within the justice system,” officials said in a statement. “KSD is fully committed to ensuring that every student can learn in an environment free from discrimination in any form.”

The Kearney School District’s student population is 91.5% white; only about 1% of students are black, according to the state education department. And it’s not the first time in the past year that a black family has fled the district, alleging discrimination.

Last fall, the U.S. Department of Education’s Civil Rights Office launched an investigation into the district after a parent filed a lawsuit saying she pulled her children from Kearney schools due to bullying. racial.

The complaint filed in court this month relates to harassment suffered by a student who attended Kearney High School during the 2018-19 and 2019-20 school years.

In first year, the student competed on the swim team, but was told by white swimmers that he had to shave his hair and dye it blond, according to the costume. Fellow swimmers bullied him for his race and told him, “Swim nigger swim,” during a competition. His sister reported the conduct to the coach.

Later, a white high school student took a photo of the black student and superimposed the words “(F***n*****s)” on it. The lawsuit says the incident was reported to school administrators.

After the incident with the Confederate flag photos, the petition says the black student began receiving threatening messages on social media from an anonymous account. The posts included racial slurs and one read: ‘THIS IS A WHITE CITY BOY (N****)’. The family claims to have reported the harassment to a counselor and high school principal, but were told to contact the police.

In another incident, the lawsuit says a white student was playing music with the N-word and began repeating the insult. The black student asked him to stop, and the white student then started making monkey noises.

Throughout the school day, several other white students joined in the noises. The petition claims that this was also brought to the attention of the administrators.

In September 2019, a white student who had previously harassed the black student circulated a video in which she and another white student chanted the N-word and indicated that the slurs were in response to the black student’s disapproval. with respect to this word.

According to the lawsuit, the black student told his parents he believed white students were trying to incite violence against him. The following day, several white students allegedly got into a physical altercation with the black student’s friend, who is also African American.

He then began to receive more threatening anonymous messages. And his parents quickly took him out of school.

The petition states that the student’s sister was also racially harassed in the district. In middle school, for example, the sister was called the N-word in class. She reported the conduct to a teacher and principal. The administration allegedly told him that it would be dealt with at a later date because the accused student had a football game and his father was a coach.

The sister was also the target of racial slurs during other incidents in middle school and high school, the lawsuit says.

The lawsuit claims the district violated Missouri human rights law and deprived the student of full and equal use and enjoyment of the school and its services. He states that he was also deprived of a safe learning environment and suffered the emotional distress and financial cost of leaving school.

The Star’s Bill Lukitsch contributed to this report.

This story was originally published May 16, 2022 4:20 p.m.

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Sarah Ritter covers K-12 education for The Kansas City Star. A former Quad-City Times reporter, Sarah is a graduate of Augustana College.

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