In a suburban Minnesota school district in turmoil over a series of racist incidents, a group of black students and alumni say administrators and teachers knowingly allowed white students to discriminate against them for years, hindering their education and inflicting emotional abuse.
In a federal lawsuit, the current and former students allege Eastern Carver County Schools “turned a blind eye” as they endured physical assaults, death threats and racial slurs, such as being called a “monkey” or “donkey.” Some students say the racist bullying has driven them to leave the district for a safer environment.
Teachers and administrators knew about the abuse, but did nothing to stop it — or in some cases responded by singling out the victims, according to the suit.
The lawsuit asks for a jury trial to determine damages for civil rights violations that resulted in educational loss, mental anguish and emotional distress. Filed on behalf of six current and former students, some minors, it depicts a culture of racism permeating from elementary school to high school.
“It’s a districtwide issue — it’s not an instance of an isolated teacher who’s maybe out of line,” said Anna Prakash, one of the attorneys representing the students. “I think it’s just really sad that this is happening, and I’m hopeful this issue will bring about systemwide change.”
Prakash said the students and parents filed the lawsuit after exhausting all other avenues of relief. “At some point, enough is enough,” she said.
A spokeswoman from the school district had not yet seen the lawsuit, so she could not comment.
The Eastern Carver County Schools district, which encompasses Chaska, Chanhassen, Victoria and Carver schools, is largely white, with only 3% black students, according to the Office of Civil Rights Data Collection.
In April, a petition circulated among parents asking for the removal of the principal of Chaska High School. Superintendent Clint Christopher later acknowledged the district had failed to adequately handle incidents of racism. And last month, Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison called racist events “deeply disturbing” while visiting a group of concerned parents in Chaska.
In one incident, a white student posted a video to Snapchat threatening to shoot several black students if they attended a school assembly on race relations, according to the lawsuit. In the video, the student held a gun on his lap.
Last fall, school officials allowed white students from Chaska High School into a football game wearing blackface and an Afro wig. The school later printed a picture in the yearbook of a student wearing blackface, according to the civil complaint.
At the same time, the lawsuit alleges, school officials did not allow black students to hang posters for Black History month, including one featuring Malcolm X, calling them too “controversial.” In response, students held a protest titled “Black History Uncensored,” and several white students met them with signs reading “All Lives Matter,” in some cases following the black students to class.
In another recent incident, white high schoolers circulated a racist map on social media that included pictures of 25 black students and the title “Negro Hill.” In December 2018, a white student broke into the locker of a black student and wrote a racial slur on his gym shirt, according to the suit.
In an open letter to Ellison last week, Christopher said district officials have not stood idly by. They hired a new director of equity and inclusion this summer and are working to provide better training for district employees and contracting a research group to study the district’s policies. He said the school district seeks to create an environment where “all students feel safe, welcome, and included, and have the tools and resources to succeed.”
He continued: “We have not yet realized that for every student, and have been working in earnest to move the needle and improve outcomes for every child that walks through our doors.”