Lawsuit alleges suburban school district allowed racist behavior

A group of African-American students and their parents filed a civil rights lawsuit this week alleging a Twin Cities suburban school district failed to “meaningfully address the racism” after a string of incidents at Chaska High School and other schools.

The plaintiffs are six current and former students — including some who have since left Eastern Carver County Schools “because of the rampant racism” and administrators’ failure to protect their black students, according to the lawsuit.

The students allege they were called “monkey” by their white peers and were subject to physical assault and death threats because of their skin color.

Some of the episodes detailed in the lawsuit garnered significant media attention, and a few weeks ago, Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison met with a group of concerned parents. The incidents occurred at various schools across the district, and the students said in the lawsuit they’ve suffered from emotional trauma.

The attorney for the families, Anna Prakash, said administrators have not done enough to address the racist culture in the district.

“There has been some change; there has not been enough change; there's not been meaningful change and at some point you seek another way of advocating for your kid and this lawsuit was that way,” Prakash said.

In September 2018, white students at Chaska High School wore black face and an Afro wig to a football game. That December, an African-American middle school student claimed a white student stole his gym shirt, wrote the n-word on the shirt and placed it back in his locker to find.

Chaska High School also received media attention in February when African-American students were not allowed to display certain Black History Month posters because they were deemed too controversial by staff.

The most recent incidents at the high school occurred this spring. In April, the lawsuit alleges, white students posted a Snapchat image of the faces of 25 black students superimposed on a Google map with a red locator calling it “Negro Hill.” In May, a white student wearing blackface appeared in the Chaska High School yearbook.

One of the more severe incidents alleges a white student threatened to shoot a list of black students at Chaska High School if they attended a school assembly on race relations.

The suit claims teachers in the district do not have proper training on responding to racism and white students do not suffer meaningful consequences for racist incidents.

About a third of staff of color have left the district in the past two years and currently, there are no African-American teachers on staff in Eastern Carver County Schools, according to the lawsuit.

The plaintiffs are seeking awards for punitive damages in an amount to be determined at trial, and further relief as the court deems just and equitable.

“They’re seeking acknowledgment of the harm that they have suffered, that their kids have suffered after being in a district where they are experiencing discrimination and bias, and that is a result of what they look like,” Prakash said.

District spokesperson Celi Haga said the district will not comment on the litigation. She pointed to a letter Superintendent Clint Christopher wrote last week to Attorney General Ellison.

“Our School Board, and our district staff, are committed to an educational environment where all students feel safe, welcome, and included, and have the tools and resources to succeed,” Christopher wrote in the letter. “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.”

Among the measures the district has taken include 50 feedback sessions with staff, students, parents and community members to help develop the district’s equity action plan. Christopher also said in the letter that the district hired a “nationally recognized researcher” to audit the district’s policies, practices and performance data through an equity lens.

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