A discrimination lawsuit was filed against the Waukee School District in Waukee, Iowa, after three Black students claimed they were sent to sit in the back of the bus during a 2021 band trip, according to KCCI.
Three students at Northwest High School said they were forced by a white chaperone to sit in the back of the bus following an altercation during a marching band competition in Omaha, Nebraska, in September 2021.
According to the Iowa Capital Dispatch, a letter sent to the Waukee School District’s superintendent by attorney Jerry Foxhoven claimed that the chaperone was angry because the students were “disgraceful to their teammates” by getting on the bus before the awards ceremony for the band competition had concluded.
The three students — who were with two white students — had permission from their band director and music teacher to return to the bus. Instead, the chaperone allegedly ordered the students off the bus before dismissing the two white students from the conversation. The chaperone and another white parent confronted the students, including then-senior Bailey Hilson.
Hilson and one of the chaperones began to argue after the parent grabbed another student by the arm when they tried to walk away to get the band director. One of the chaperones reportedly responded by getting in Bailey’s face and thumping her on the forehead with her finger.
After the altercation, the Black students asked to ride home on another bus because they did not want to ride on the same bus as the chaperones. One of the white students reportedly called the chaperones “racist bigots” during the bus ride home.
“This mature and reasonable request was denied, and the three Black students were instructed to ‘sit in the back of the bus’ and not interact with the adults on the way home,” wrote Foxhoven. “This direction … created a pathetic scene reminiscent of our nation’s history of segregation in public transportation. The students, left with no other choice, followed instructions.”
The chaperone allegedly admitted to waving her finger in Bailey’s face but denied touching her and claimed Bailey used profanity and said “hateful things.” An investigation into the incident by assistant principal Christie Pitts found that the chaperone did touch or grab two students, and the Waukee Police Department was notified about the altercation. However, it is unclear if the police department ever conducted an investigation.
The chaperone was prohibited from volunteering at the high school and banned from one home football game. The lawsuit also claimed that the investigation lacked focus on the racist aspects of the incident while investigating bullying accusations against Bailey.
The investigation also found that surveillance video from the bus aligned with Bailey’s recollection of events and showed one of the white students being dismissed from the conversation before the altercation. According to Foxhoven, an ongoing “substantial student conflict” between Hilson and the chaperone’s child occurred because of the band trip and altercation.
Waukee School District spokesperson Amy Varcoe said the district “strongly denies” the allegations in the lawsuit. “Waukee Community School District maintains a strong commitment to a safe and collaborative environment for all students,” said Varcoe.
Bailey filed a complaint in July with the Iowa Civil Rights Commission and was issued a right-to-sue letter in September. The lawsuit contends that the Waukee School District investigation was a sham and noted that Hilson “suffered severe emotional distress, causing her to miss school, struggle with depression and feel isolated and unsupported at school, causing her to miss the true joy normally experienced by a student in their senior year of high school.” The school district has not yet filed a response with the court.