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‘Terrible and Unacceptable’: Feds Sanction Kentucky School District After Black Students Face Years of Being Called the N-Word, Taunted with Confederate Flag

Two years after Black Kentucky sisters filed a lawsuit claiming that they had been called the N-word hundreds of times by other students, the U.S. Justice Department has ordered the school district to fix its racist and hostile environment. 

The DOJ said an investigation into the Madison County School District “uncovered numerous incidents of race-based harassment.”

“No student should be subject to racial harassment, including racist taunts with the Confederate flag that are clearly intended to surface some of the harshest and most brutal periods of our country’s history. Racial harassment inflicts grievous harm on young people and violates the Constitution’s most basic promise of equal protection,” said Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Kristen Clarke.

Justice Department Announces a Settlement with Kentucky School District That Aims to Remedy Racial Harassment
Black students in the Madison County School District were subjected to racist bullying for years, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. (Photos: MSHS Eagles/Facebook/Getty Images)

Now the DOJ has submitted ways to support the district as it works to resolve racial harassment and remedy various places where systemic racism is creating an environment of discrimination.

Related: ‘Something Has to be Done’: Concerned Texas Mom Says 13-Year-Old Son’s Been Taunted with Racist Texts, Threats for Months, and School District Had Done Nothing

In a press release distributed on Monday, June 12, the DOJ announced that agents performed a two-and-a-half-year probe into the MCSD and discovered that many of their Black and multi-racial students were discriminated against by their classmates and that the district often turned a blind eye.

Not only were students called racial slurs like the N-word, but they were also harassed. White students repeatedly taunted students of color, many times by using painful and racially charged imagery like Confederate flags to intimidate them.

Because the district did nothing to stop this, despite reports of the harassment running rampant, Black and multi-racial students were “deprived” of “equal access to the district’s educational opportunities.” The DOJ also concluded that the inaction of school officials also conveyed to the minors that the district “either condoned the behavior or would not take any action to help them,” causing them to feel helpless.

MCSD has 11,045 students, according to the Public School Review. Black students make up 4 percent of the student body population at its 20 schools. Students of multi-racial backgrounds make up 5 percent of the student body population.

The school district mirrors the general population of the predominately white county. Census records show there only 4.5 percent of the people who live in the district identify as African-American.

In 2020, two sisters filed a federal lawsuit claiming they were bullied and harassed by white students because of their race, and when they reported it administrators did nothing to keep them safe or stop it.

The complaint named the Madison County Board of Education, Superintendent David Gilliam, and former Madison Southern Principal Brandon Watkins. It also named four other individuals in the lawsuit.

Moriah and Macie Hill shared that while attending Madison Southern High School, they were subjected to a “racially hostile environment,” like having the N-word scratched into a bathroom stall door but not removed until eight months later.

In May 2020, one of the white students harassed Macie by calling her the N-word at least 300 times on Snapchat. The complaint showed that the younger sister endured hundreds of targeted social media exchanges filled with racial slurs and hate-filled language.

Her principal did address the cyberbullying, releasing a statement on the school’s Facebook page, calling the harassment “a terrible and unacceptable incident that happened on social media this week.”

“This incident includes behavior that does not and will not be representative of our school or community. As a school and a district, it simply will NOT be tolerated,” the post continued.

Two minors and two adults were arrested for the harassment.

Federal agents also discovered officials and administrators disciplined Black students disproportionately more than any demographic in “some district schools.”

The settlement agreement requires that Madison County Schools engage in “significant institutional reforms.”

The reforms include hiring a consultant to review and revise anti-discrimination policies and procedures and provide support for implementing the agreement. The school district will create three new central office positions to handle complaints of racial discrimination.

Updates will be made to racial harassment and discipline policies to better track and respond to complaints of race-based harassment. Staff members will receive training on identifying, investigating, and addressing complaints of racial harassment and discriminatory discipline practices. Students and parents will be informed about reporting procedures for harassment and discrimination.

The district’s centralized electronic reporting system will be updated to manage and track complaints and the district’s response. Focus groups, surveys, training sessions, and educational events will be implemented to identify and prevent race discrimination, including discriminatory harassment.

Additionally, discipline data will be analyzed and reviewed, and policies will be reviewed to ensure non-discriminatory enforcement of discipline policies.

“This agreement will create the institutional changes needed to keep Black and multi-racial students safe and to provide them with a supportive educational environment,” Clarke said. “We look forward to Madison County Schools demonstrating to its students and school community that it will no longer tolerate racial discrimination in its schools.”

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