A federal lawsuit (pdf) filed last week in Northern California alleges that the Eureka City Schools District engaged in pervasive and systemic racism and sexual harassment against black and Native American students, while tolerating weekly traditions of “Titty-Twisting Tuesdays and “Slap-Ass Fridays” at one school.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed the lawsuit with the National Center for Youth Law on behalf of four teenage students. Beneath the litany of indignities it detailed in the lawsuit, the ACLU alleged a foundation of broader discrimination. It cited data from the 2011-12 school year that the proportion of white students expelled in the district matches their enrollment numbers, but black and Native American students are suspended at three to five times the percentage.
The lawsuit also expresses a measure of disdain for the district’s teaching materials and methods:
“District school curriculum includes materials that use the words ‘savage,’ ‘negro,’ and ‘nigger,’ yet school staff fail to discuss the offensiveness or historical context of these terms. Absent such context, when these words are used in curricular materials, White students often turn to stare at or taunt Black students, and Native American students are made to feel ashamed of their culture.”
The suit alleges that the district unfairly pushes Native American students out of the district and into the Humboldt County Office of Education’s community school system, where high-risk youth are stashed for the duration of their education. Their rate of transfer was three times their enrollment proportion.
Dozens of specific incidents of racial and sexual harassment, bullying, and assault are described in the lawsuit, along with staff and teacher indifference. One plaintiff in the suit, student Jessica K., filed at least 10 incident reports between November 2012 and May 2013 about racial slurs, nasty comments and physical harassment from other students. Her mother weighed in with 30 direct complaints. But nothing came of it.
Jessica K. is also identified in the lawsuit as having disability-related needs, for which the district typically did not provide “even minimal accommodations.” By denying disabled students the support they need, the district ends up forcing them into alternative schools, the student claims.
Michael Harris, a lawyer with the National Center for Youth Law, told the Eureka Times-Standard he found a “culture of lawlessness” in the district that encouraged the kinds of incidents that fill the 52-page lawsuit. The lawsuit seeks monetary damages and actions taken by the district to monitor and control the problem. The school district denied the lawsuit’s claims.
The ACLU also joined California Indian Legal Services in filing a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education against the Loleta School District, about 10 miles from Eureka. The complaint also alleges discrimination against Native American students and claims that staff at Loleta Elementary School physically assaulted them, used racial slurs in front of them and expelled them without proper cause.