Utah school district has ignored racial discrimination for years, according to a new report
According to an investigation by the Justice Departments Civil Rights Division, a school district in Utah ignored grave and widespread racial harassment for years, failing to respond to complaints from Black and Asian-American students who were called racially slurs and physically assaulted by their peers.
More than 200 instances of racial harassment were found in the predominantly white Davis School District, north of Salt Lake City, according to the Justice Department. The investigation, which focused on reports from 2015 to 2020, found more than 150 instances in a predominantly black school district.
According to the investigation, Black students were disciplined more harshly and frequently than white students, and Black student groups were denied opportunities to form. Complaints about such treatment were often ignored or brushed off, leading the Justice Department to conclude that the school was deliberately indifferent to the racial divide in many of its schools.
The story was published last week when the Justice Department announced that it had reached a settlement with the district. Under the terms of the settlement, the district agreed to establish a new department to handle complaints of racial discrimination, to train its employees to identify and respond to complaints, and to teach students how to report harassment, as well as to provide training to students, employees, & parents to assist them in identifying and preventing racial discriminations in its schools.
In a statement, Kristen Clarke, the Civil Rights Division's assistant attorney general, said: "Pervasive racial harassment and other forms of racially discrimination in public schools violate the Constitution''" This agreement will assist in the institutional change necessary to ensure that Black and Asian-American students are protected.
The Davis School District, Utah's second largest, has more than 72,000 students, of whom only about a quarter are Black or Asian-American. In a statement, it said it takes these findings extremely seriously.
The report stated, These are not representative of the values of this community and the expectations of our district. The district pledges to correct these practices.
In 2019, the Justice Department began an investigation into the district. In 27 of its schools, the district had at least 212 reports of Black students being called a racist slur, according to the study.
Peers tamed Black students by making monkey noises at them, touching and pulling their hair without permission, repeatedly referencing slavery and lynching and telling Black people go pick cotton and you are my slave, the department said.
In October 2019, a white elementary school student dressed as Hitler for Halloween, giving the Nazi salute as he marched in sassy parades through the hallways, according to the department. According to the report, staff members did not stop him or report him to school administrators.
Sometimes, white students would ask that their Black peers give them permission to use racist slurs directed at Black people. When Black students resisted, they were sometimes threatened or physically assaulted, according to the department.
The harassment would often occur in front of predominantly white faculty and staff, but they wouldn't respond or intervene in any way, the department said.
Black and Asian-American students were taught not to be so sensitive, according to the department. According to the report, some students stopped reporting harassment and began missing school because of it, and concluded that school employees effectively condoned the behavior.
Several former students claimed that racism has been an issue in the district for decades.
Jacob Low, 32, and his younger brother, Randy Lowy, 27, who attended schools in the district in early 2000s, said in separate interviews Sunday that students and teachers had repeatedly harassed them for being half Japanese.
Jacob Low said an English teacher taunted him in front of other students about his Japanese heritage in high school. Their mother called administrators several times, he added, and told them, You guys have a serious racism problem.
But administrators and teachers either did not seem to understand how to curb the harassment or did nothing to try to address it, according to Randy Low.
Another student used a racial slur and was not disciplined in any way, and he said that dozens of other students witnessed it, recalled Sullivan. I realized, why would I bring this up to the administration, to my teachers, if the only thing theyre going to do is tell me, Youll be fine?
Tomoya Averett, 22, who graduated in 2017 from a district high school, said he was abused by racial slurs by several girls in middle school and that they made it 'a habit' to call her racially explicit almost every day.
Averett, who is Black, said in an interview on Sunday that he is a human who wants to be treated like another human. Its sad that at that age I had to ask for respect from people who should have just given it to me. I have nephews and nieces who are in the Davis School District, and it just breaks my heart. Every day Im worried about them.
Andrea Martinez, the acting US attorney for Utah, said in a statement that she hopes the settlement will be the beginning of... securing that Black and Asian-American students will not be afraid to attend Davis schools.
Former students said they were sceptical that real change would occur soon.
Randy Low said, If you have poison in the district, and you dont do anything about it, its going to remain, he added. So I hope its eye-opening for the community. But, honestly, it should have been eye-opening 10 years ago.