Michigan ACLU Files Complaint Against Local School District Alleging a ‘Hostile Racial Climate’

The American Civil Liberties Union in Michigan has taken aim at a school district in Paw Paw, Michigan, over numerous incidents of racial discrimination.

ACLU attorney Mark P. Fancher filed the complaint Monday, Jan. 21, with the U.S. Department of Education against Paw Paw Public Schools. As part of the group’s filing it cited cases of racial discrimination that occurred at Paw Paw High School, the most recent occurred during a basketball game on Dec. 21, 2018. During that event, white players from Paw Paw and several fans fought with Black players in a road game at South Haven High School. The filing, however, covers incidents — including those of an ethnic and religious nature — that have happened since 2015.


A general view of the Michigan Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) on August 12, 2014, in Detroit, MI. (Photo by Paul Marotta/Getty Images)

Noting that Paw Paw High has been the focus of headlines for its controversial decision to keep the Redskins as the team mascot in 2017, the filing also notes that there have been many other things that have happened. It describes such events as those that have contributed to a “hostile racial climate.”

In one case, a student pushed another pupil on the way back from lunch and called him the N-word. Another report said there was a “use of a racial slur directed at a classmate. Called him a f–king n—er.” There’s also a document that states a student used a “whiteboard eraser to draw a penis and write the ‘n’ word on the carpet.”

The filing affirms the district has violated Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 through these episodes. Title VI prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, and national origin from any program that receives federal financial assistance.

The ACLU requests the Education Department begins a probe into the allegations and that the district starts to use strategies to eradicate bigotry.

“This complaint implores the [Office for Civil Rights] to find that Paw Paw school district is in violation of Title VI and order actions by the school district that are calculated to rehabilitate the school district’s hostile racial climate,” the filing concluded.

District Superintendent Sonia Lark released a statement denying the claims from the ACLU, saying that the nonprofit organization has not done enough research on the problem. According to her, Paw Paw has done enough to quickly and adequately address grievances concerning discrimination.

“District staff and administration work tirelessly to promote diversity and to encourage cultural sensitivity,” Lark said. “The district does not tolerate unlawful discrimination or harassment.”

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