A Utah school district ignored hundreds of racial harassment complaints against Black and Asian American students, DOJ says
Nicole Chavez, CNN
(CNN) — Black and Asian American students were harassed at a school district in Utah for years and officials deliberately ignored complaints from parents and students, a federal civil rights investigation found.
The Justice Department detailed the disturbing pattern at the Davis School District in Farmington, Utah in a report and settlement agreement released this week. The agency had been investigating the school district since July 2019.
Black students were called the n-word, told “you are my slave” by other students and told their skin was dirty or “looked like feces” numerous times. Meanwhile, Asian American students were called slurs and told to “go back to China,” the report states.
The school district had knowledge of the hostile environment and documents showed records of at least 212 incidents in which Black students were called the n-word in 27 schools between 2015-2020, according to the Justice Department.
But district officials frequently ignored the complaints, dismissed them, and at times “told Black and Asian-American students not to be so sensitive or made excuses for harassing students by explaining that they were ‘not trying to be racist,”” the DOJ report states.
CNN has reached out to the school district for comment. Chris Williams, a spokesman for the Davis School District told CNN affiliate KSTU the district feels “sorry for any student who felt this is not the place to be.”
“We have a lot of work to do. We are not happy with what we read. We’d like to think that it is not us but it is us. We really have to work hard,” Williams told KSTU.
As a result of the investigation, the Davis School District has signed a settlement with the Department of Justice. The district has agreed to numerous changes, including the creation of more training for staff to investigate and respond to racial harassment, creating a new equal opportunity department and developing an electronic system to receive and manage reports of racial harassment and discrimination.
“Pervasive racial harassment and other forms of racial discrimination in public schools violate the Constitution’s most basic promise of equal protection,” said Kristen Clarke, assistant attorney general for the agency’s civil rights division. “This agreement will help generate the institutional change necessary to keep Black and Asian-American students safe. We look forward to Davis demonstrating to its students and school community that it will no longer tolerate racial discrimination in its schools.”
Teachers and staff chose not to intervene
Students told investigators staff members have ridiculed students in front of their peers, retaliated against those who reported harassment and endorsed stereotypes, according to DOJ.
A complaint reviewed by the DOJ indicates a teacher singled out a Latino student and taunted him for working at a taco truck, even when the student was not employed there.
The findings state several teachers admitted to investigators they heard students using racial epithets but did not report it to administrators.
There are about 73,000 students enrolled in the district. Black and Asian American students each represent about 1% of the student population.
Investigators found Black students were disciplined more harshly than White students for similar offenses in the 2017-2018 and 2018-2019 school years.
“In several cases, Black students were excluded from class through in- or out-of-school suspensions whereas their white peers received a conference,” the DOJ report said.
The district has previously faced accusations of discrimination. In 2019, it settled a civil rights lawsuit filed by the family of a biracial student who was dragged by a school bus. The boy’s family alleged a then-bus driver closed the vehicle’s door on the student’s backpack and dragged him about 150 feet because of his “racial animus” toward students of mixed race.
The complaint cited at least two prior incidents involving other students dating back to September 2017.
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