Massachusetts Middle School Punished Black Student Multiple Times After White Students Called Him the N-word and Attacked Him, Lawsuit States

A federal civil rights lawsuit alleges that a Boston-area middle school failed to protect a 12-year-old Black student who was subjected to a racially hostile environment in which white students attacked him and called him racial slurs on multiple occasions.

The complaint, filed by the Lawyers for Civil Rights with USDOE’s Office of Civil Rights, claims that Melrose Veteran’s Memorial Middle School and the Melrose Independent School District did nothing to stop the racial bullying that seventh grader David Palacio suffered for months.

The suit states that David has experienced racial harassment since he was in elementary school, but it highlights specific instances from his time in middle school.

david palacio
David Palacio, 12, spoke to NBC10 Boston about the amount of racial bullying he suffered at Melrose Veteran’s Memorial Middle School in Massachusetts, which was detailed in a federal civil rights lawsuit. (Photo: YouTube/NBC10 Boston)

“I’ve been called the N-word a few times, it all started out with jokes then they started to take it too far,” David told NBC10 Boston. “My grades started to get a little bit down so I had to get removed from my classes and go to different classes downstairs.”

In April 2023, while he was still in the sixth grade, David was called the N-word at lunch by a white classmate. After the assistant principal called David’s mother, Nita Holder, to notify her, Holder suggested the school coordinate a restorative justice meditation session with the white classmate. The school never set up the meeting or implemented any accountability measures.

Five months later, some students called David the N-word in the school library and then attacked him. In that instance, the teachers restrained David and treated him as the offender, the suit states. He told teachers about the racial slur, but the school went on to suspend him from school for a day, while the white students who started the fight were never punished.

David’s mother complained to the school’s leadership who said they would investigate the incident thoroughly, but never followed up with her, according to the complaint.

“The school’s inaction created a strong impression that Black students like David could be insulted and violently attacked without any consequences for racist perpetrators,” the complaint states. “This unleashed further violence targeted at David.”

In January 2024, a white classmate called David the N-word in a group chat and then attacked him two days later. The school treated David as the aggressor again and placed him on an “emergency removal,” which subjected David to a two-day school suspension under state law.

David’s mother followed up with the school again, showing them a cell phone video confirming that David didn’t start the fight. The school lifted the threat of suspension, but never investigated the racial slur or instituted preventative measures to protect David.

According to NBC10 Boston, David tried to defend himself in texts to classmates who called him the N-word. In one response, a white classmate told him, “I have only said it once David. But I can name 100 people in this school that say it on a daily basis.”

Holder subsequently withdrew David from school. It was only after David’s withdrawal that school administrators attempted to launch an investigation into David’s treatment. At that point, Holder refused to cooperate and enrolled David at a different school in a different district.

“What motivated me to [withdraw David] is injustice,” Holder said. “I’m a Black woman. I’m raising two Black men.”

The Melrose Independent School District sent a statement to NBC10 Boston that said officials look forward to providing “more information about the steps that the District took to address these incidents described in this complaint.”

“We take any allegations of individual or systemic discrimination very seriously in Melrose Public Schools, and we are committed to fostering a safe and equitable educational environment for all,” Interim Superintendent John Macero said.

Holder called Macero’s statement “laughable,” citing that he was aware of the racist bullying incidents against David, yet offered no support.

The suit demands Melrose Veterans Memorial School and the Melrose Independent School District undergo unconscious bias and cultural sensitivity training, provide mental health and social services to victims of racial bullying and harassment, and incorporate a zero-tolerance policy against identity-based and racial bullying.

This is the second time in the last decade that the Melrose school district has faced a federal racial discrimination claim. The U.S. Department of Education discovered the district violated federal civil rights laws in 2015 in connection to another complaint about a racially hostile environment. The school system was federally monitored for a year.

The newest lawsuit pointed back to that case, stating that the “pattern of discrimination in MISD’s schools persists to this day.”

“Melrose did not learn its lesson … and it continues to let racial bullying run rampant in their schools,” Erika Richmond Walton, litigation fellow at Lawyers for Civil Rights, said in a statement.

Massachusetts state data shows the district serves nearly 4,000 students, all in sixth, seventh, and eighth grades. About 75 percent of the students are white and 6 percent are Black.

Melrose Veteran’s Memorial School’s demographics are quite similar. More than 74 percent of students are white and about 5.5 percent are Black.

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