The parents of a a Black teen at a majority white middle school in Tennessee are fighting back after being bullied and harassed for months by filing a federal lawsuit against the school officials.
“There’s been documented incidents in this case of no fewer than 12 racial harassment episodes,” said Larry Crain, attorney representing the family of a Black 14-year-old boy who attended Church Hill Middle School in Church Hill, Tennessee, a town of about 7,000 people, 96 percent of them white, 80 miles northeast of Knoxville.
The racial demographics of the town are reflected in its middle school, which had only 5 Black students out of 400 total this past school year. The 14-year-old, who is not named in the lawsuit, has a white mother and Black father, was victimized and faced racist bullying for months by white students, the lawsuit alleges.
“Stalked this young man I guess is the best way to put it, shoved information in front of him depicting African-Americans with nooses and KKK literature,” Crain said of the allegations listed in the claim.
The federal lawsuit filed against the school district on May 24 and seeks $2.5 million in damages, lists several incidents of alleged harassment dating back to September 2021. One instance was of white student allegedly said to the Black 14-year-old, “fight me you (expletive) monkey.”
The Black student was also allegedly called racial epithets and harassed by a drawing depicting a KKK member holding a torch and noose standing over what was described as “monkey island.”
Crain says the Black teen was also, “a victim of a slave auction” and he was “nominated as monkey of the month” by white students at the school.
The lawsuit also says the 14-year-old was chased out of the boy’s bathroom with a stuffed monkey and the incident was recorded on cellphone video and uploaded to social media with the caption, “monkey chasing monkey.”
“At one point, some students inflated some gloves and put depictions of African-Americans on them and stabbed the gloves,” Crain goes on to describe more of the alleged racist acts done to the 14-year-old Black student.
According to the lawsuit, the 14-year-old’s mother, Erika Qualls, tried to get school officials to intervene, with little success.
“There was no effort made to intervene at the school level to make sure the perpetrators of these attacks were dealt with appropriately,” Crain said of the school’s response to the alleged incidents.
Crain says in some cases school officials blamed the 14-year-old for being victimized, discouraging hm from coming forward, although the bullying continued.
“It is this young man who in many times was accused of being the initiator of these incidents and was even disciplined himself on occasion,” Crain said.
The Hawkins County Board of Education sent Atlanta Black Star a statement regarding the allegations cited in the lawsuit.
“Hawkins County Schools understands a parent has filed suit against our school system. Though the school system will not address specifics in an effort to protect student privacy, we vehemently deny that our school system tolerates racial discrimination or harassment of any kind. When such allegations are brought to our attention regarding student conduct, we take steps to investigate the same and to discipline those found responsible.
Hawkins County Schools and the many educators who work within our school system strive to create an environment where all students – regardless of their race – feel safe and welcome. And we will defend ourselves in court against any claims to the contrary.“
“If that is their position and I fully expect it will be, the efficacy of their efforts to intervene or do something about it appears to be futile,” Crain said of the Board of Education’s response to the lawsuit filed.
Crain says since the Qualls lawsuit was filed on May 24, more families have come forward claiming their children also experienced racial harassment, and while Erika Qualls did not join Crain for an interview on the case, Crain says she wants accountability for what happened to her son.
“If anything it seems to us, there was no action taken to discipline those that were responsible for these racial attacks,” Crain said.