The American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana today filed a lawsuit against the Westfield Washington School Corp, after administrators failed to protect a student from pervasive and relentless racist bullying at the hands of her classmates.
The student, identified only as S.J. because she is a minor, was a seventh-grade student at Westfield Middle School, and one of very few Black students in her class, during the 2019-2020 school year. The bullying endured by S.J. included statements regarding S.J.’s facial features, explicit comparisons to a monkey, questions regarding whether S.J. was attracted to orangutans, and the routine use of the “n-word.” In addition, after the COVID-19 pandemic forced classes online in the spring of 2020, several students chanted the “n-word” at S.J. while attendance was being taken during a Zoom session.
“We want to protect and make a change for the minority children and families in Westfield Washington School District, so that their families do not have to endure the hurt, disappointment, and safety concerns we experienced,” said S.J.’s parents, Anthony and Brandi Johnson. “You have to speak up about any kind of discrimination in order to make a change and to protect each other.”
According to the complaint, racist abuse was reported to school administrators on numerous occasions. While administrators purported to offer S.J. their sympathy, they repeatedly failed to take reasonable measures to protect S.J. from continuing abuse. Administrators also claimed to have filed multiple police reports of which the Westfield Police claimed to have no records. S.J.’s parents ultimately removed her from Westfield Middle School, enrolling her in an online school for her 8th grade year.
The failure to protect S.J. from clear instances of racist bullying constitutes actionable discrimination under Title VI of Civil Rights of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000d, et seq.
“Under federal law, public schools have a duty to take reasonable measures to protect their students from pervasive race-based bullying,” said Gavin M. Rose, ACLU of Indiana Senior Staff Attorney. “Westfield Middle School administrators failed to protect S.J. from abuse from her classmates, ultimately excluding her from access to a safe and equal learning experience.”