A Black teen is suing her local school district in the southern Wisconsin city of Baraboo after she claims it ignored her complaints of racist harassment, bullying and sexual assault — all of which she says the district did nothing to stop.
In a 30-page lawsuit filed in federal court in the state capital of Madison on Wednesday, the 17-year-old girl and her mother accuse the Baraboo School District of showing “deliberate indifference” to the alleged abuse by district students and staff, the Wisconsin State Journal first reported.
The complaint details a number of reported incidents in the last few years, from unwanted touching from a male classmate to students sporting Confederate flag apparel and using the N-word.
“Officials at the district never took any meaningful action in response to the reports of racial discrimination,” the complaint states, further accusing the district of violating laws meant to protect students from discrimination and harassment. “In fact, most of the time, there was no reaction at all.”
The student, Dasia Banks, said her bullying in the district began in the first grade, and it got to the point where she felt there was no use in speaking up, until now.
“I want to be the one controlling my story,” the former Baraboo High School student told The Daily Beast in a recent interview.
The allegations come a little over a year after several students at the small town high school were pictured giving the Nazi salute — an incident district leaders said was not “reflective of the educational values [and] beliefs of the School District of Baraboo.” The teen’s complaint argues otherwise, painting the school as a pit of racism, bullying and assault.
The Baraboo community, located a little over an hour outside Madison, boasts a population of just over 12,000 and is predominately white. Not much is different at the local high school where the student body is 87 percent white, while less than 1 percent of students are Black.
Among the incidents cited in the lawsuit, Banks claims she was sexually assaulted on multiples occasions by a boy at Baraboo High, who district leaders were reportedly aware had assaulted other female students. The alleged abuse during the 2017-18 school year and included inappropriate touching, groping and exposure, according to the complaint.
That same year, the teenager says she was physically assaulted by another boy in the school hallway. He would only get a day of in-school suspension, rather than the required punishment for bullying of a one- to three-day out-of-school suspension.
The plaintiff, who was a sophomore at the time, also recalled overhearing a classmate ask a friend, “Is it a hate crime if I slap a Black girl?” In another instance, Banks alleges someone slipped an anonymous letter in her school locker calling her a “n—-r” and a “slut.” She would transfer from Baraboo High to another institution the following school year.
“Every time an issue occurred, I would go and tell a principal,” Banks told local outlet Channel 3000. “I would tell them what happened and they told me that they would handle it. But it continued to happen so I felt as though they weren’t doing anything.”
The teen’s mother, Megan Ray, said the harassment has been going on for years and it’s high time the district does something to address it.
“I watched her go from this amazing, compassionate young lady, and she just kind of turned hard,” Ray said, adding: “Her heart has been hardened. She doesn’t believe in anybody anymore. Now, she has got her voice back. And she’s ready to use it for good.”
Ray, a former Baraboo School District employee, noted that she too was subjected to racial abuse, including being called the N-word by students. According to her LinkedIn profile, she was an education assistant and an assistant coach for the varsity girls’ basketball team at Baraboo HS before resigning in 2018.
Ray said her complaints about the harassment fell on deaf ears, prompting her to quit amid exhaustion over the district’s “failure to either address or end its racially hostile educational environment,” the lawsuit states.
Tim Heilman, a Baraboo School Board member, told the State Journal that the board has “very, very little information” regarding the accusations. Ray and her daughter are standing by their claims and hope their lawsuit will change things.
“We don’t want this to happen to other families,” she told The Daily Beast.
The family’s lawsuit seeks unspecified monetary compensation from the district for “all economic and emotional losses,” they’ve suffered over the last few years.
Baraboo officials said this week that the district has not yet been served with the suit.