A school district in Iowa must now face the consequences after failing to protect a Black middle school student after he was racially harassed for two years.
According to the Des Moines Register, the Ottumwa Community School District must create new programs for students and staff following a U.S. Department of Education investigation that revealed the school district had failed to protect a student who was being harassed because he was black.
“Federal civil rights law has for decades promised that no student should experience the racially hostile environment that the young person in this investigation endured,” Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Catherine E. Lhamon said in a release.
The harassment, which took place during the 2020-21 and 2021-22 school years, included a student using the term “KKK” and then referring to it as the “Kool Kids Klub.
According to the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights news release, another white classmate also “knelt on a Gatorade bottle in the student’s presence and said, ‘It can’t breathe’” in reference to the death of George Floyd.
Federal officials also say that a student insulted the Black middle schooler, telling him “I can send you back to the cotton fields.”
Authorities say the school district did investigate the harassment allegations but did little to make sure the harassment did not continue. Some students involved were given in-school and out-of-school suspensions, but the feds say that wasn’t enough.
According to officials, district officials agreed to reimburse the student’s family for expenses incurred for past and future therapy services, “resulting from the racially hostile environment.”
The school district will also publish an anti-harassment statement, review and revise district policies, provide staff training “regarding the district’s obligation to respond to complaints of harassment based on race, color or national origin,” and have age-appropriate programs for students on how to “address harassment based on race, color, or national origin.”
“I thank Ottumwa Community School District for committing today to take the steps necessary to ensure that in future it will respond appropriately to reports of racial harassment so every student in the district’s schools will experience the nondiscriminatory learning environment that federal law guarantees,” said Lhamon.
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