Racism Alleged in Northern California Schools
SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - Native American and black students face blatant racial and sexual harassment on a daily basis from students and staff at Eureka City Schools District, the ACLU claims in a federal lawsuit on behalf of students and parents.
Lead plaintiff Jessica K. accuses school officials of "perpetuating a racially and sexually hostile environment in district schools," allowing black students to be called "niggers," forcing Native American students out of the district, and condoning weekly traditions of "Titty-Twisting Tuesdays" and "Slap-Ass Fridays," in the 51-page complaint.
Two of the plaintiffs are black and female, one is black and male, and one is Native American and female; all are 13 to 16 years old.
They and their guardians accused the Eureka School District of "allowing pervasive racial harassment, disproportionately and unfairly disciplining Black and Native American students, disproportionately pushing Native American students out of district schools and into alternative schools, and providing racially offensive and culturally denigrating curricula in district schools."
Defendants include top administrators in the district as a whole, and at Eureka High School and Zane Middle School.
Black and Native American students are suspended at three to five times the rate of their enrollment, whereas white students are suspended at or around their rates of enrollment, according to the complaint. School officials are aware of this disproportionate discipline, but have done nothing to address the disparity, the ACLU claims, citing data from the 2011-2012 school year.
Native American students are pushed out of mainstream schools and into county-run community schools for "high-risk" students who have been expelled or referred by the county probation department or school attendance review board, according to the lawsuit.
The school district transfers Native American students to alternative schools for other reasons, such as "credit recovery, as a means of disciplining students, and as an alternative to providing services and educational supports that students need and to which they are legally entitled," the ACLU claims.
Plaintiff Alexis R., a Native American, says she was forced to transfer to a community school when she fell behind after contracting the H1N1 "swine flu" virus. Rather than help her catch up, she says, her school shipped her to an alternative school, which does not provide appropriate coursework for college-bound students.
"During the 2011-2012 school year, defendants transferred Native American students to Eureka Community School at such a high rate that their enrollment there was three times more than their district enrollment," according to the lawsuit.
Black and Native American students say they face daily discrimination and harassment from students and sometimes even staff members.
"White students frequently use racial slurs, calling black students 'niggers,' and making comments such as, 'Black girls grow up to be whores.' Although students regularly utter these slurs in class and in school hallways, school staff do not stop them. Not only do school staff allow students to use racial slurs in their presence, but school staff also make derogatory comments, such as, 'Black people get bored easily.' White students also regularly threaten and inflict violence on students of color," the students say in the complaint.
Curriculum and school activities throughout the district include materials that use the words "savage" and "nigger," and Native American students are "made to feel ashamed of their culture," according to the lawsuit.
The students claim the school district is a sexually hostile environment for girls, who are subjected to unwelcome verbal provocations and sexual physical conduct during school hours on school grounds.
Officials at Zane Middle School tolerate "weekly traditions of 'Titty-Twisting Tuesdays' and 'Slap-Ass Fridays,' where students assault other students by hitting or grabbing their nipples, breasts, and buttocks in the hallways, locker rooms, and other areas of the school. District staff witness and sometimes even participate in these practices, demonstrating to students that sexual harassment is acceptable in district schools," the students say in the 51-page lawsuit.
Students have even slapped the buttocks of school administrators and female teachers without the staff taking any steps to stop the behavior, according to the complaint.
Girls are verbally harassed, called "hooker," "whore" and "slut," and district officials know it, but have not stopped it, the students say.
Finally, the ACLU says, the district discriminates against minority students with disabilities by failing to provide them meaningful access to education.
"Rather than identifying and providing accommodations and modifications that would enable students to succeed in district schools, defendants disproportionately suspend and push out students with disabilities to alternative schools," the complaint states.
For example, at one school, 90 percent of the black students and 50 percent of the Native American students who were suspended had disabilities, while only 26 percent of their white counterparts had disabilities. At one elementary school, all of the black students who were suspended had identified disabilities, according to the complaint.
"School officials must be held accountable for failing to uphold their obligation to ensure that all Eureka students are protected from harassment and discrimination," said Jory Steele, managing attorney and director of education equity for the ACLU of Northern California.
In a response to the lawsuit, Eureka City Schools said it has been implementing programs to educate students and staff about the backgrounds and needs of the student body.
"We have investigated and will continue to investigate claims of harassment and discrimination that are brought to our attention," the district said in a statement on its Internet home page, checked this morning. "At this time we are not aware of evidence to support the allegations. We do not tolerate harassment or discrimination, and we believe every student is entitled to a safe school environment free from discrimination, harassment, intimidation and bullying. As a district we take the allegations seriously, and we are actively investigating the charges to determine the facts. The well being of our students continues to be a top priority for Eureka City Schools."
The statement, dated Wednesday, Dec. 18, is the lead item on the district's web page, and was posted in response to the lawsuit.
The plaintiffs seek compensatory and statutory damages for harassment and discrimination, and a protective injunction.
Also Wednesday, the ACLU joined forces with California Indian Legal Services to file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education, alleging racial discrimination against Native American students by Loleta Union School District employees.
The complaint charges the staff at Loleta Elementary School with physically assaulting Native American students, using racial slurs in front of them, and routinely suspending and expelling Native American students for minor behavioral issues.
Loleta is about 10 miles south of Eureka.