Saturday, December 17, 2022

West Texas Parent are Suing Their Schools Over Racism as Others Demand Action Over Antisemitic Bullying

This piece provides evidence on how racism and anti-semitism are on the rise in Texas schools. It's interesting, if not predictable, to note that this is happening at the same time that books and materials, including those designed to challenge racial, sexist, and homophobic hatred are limiting what can get taught in the schools. This creates a vacuum in knowledge and information that risks getting filled by other readily accessible online communities that promote hatred and violence. 

This vitriol then manifests at school board meetings where parents refer to race and gender justice texts as "porn," when what is really obscene is the racial hatred that plays out in school environments as youth take cues from adults, including from government leaders and members of the legislature who are happy to perpetuate fallacies, most especially, an ethnically-cleansed curriculum that's non-inclusive and thusly, narrow and harmful.

I think that most Texas students, their parents, and Texans, generally, find this to be both reprehensible and unacceptable, but those perpetrating these harms are often the loudest voices. I'm glad to see the federal government stepping in on behalf of these aggrieved students. Read for yourselves the IDRA statement here that expresses the following:

"The complaints list a number of demands for resolution, including revised district anti-harassment, anti-discrimination and anti-bullying policies; training of school and district staff on Title VI and appropriate school discipline practices; effective and age-appropriate prevention programs for students; systems for student and family input; alternatives to exclusionary discipline placement, such as restorative practices; an external evaluator to regularly assess the educational climate and effectiveness of policies; and annual reports posted online summarizing the reports of racial bullying and harassment."

These corrosive and toxic dynamics have to change if we are to prevent racial, religious, and other forms of harassment and violence in our schools. Anti-racist curriculum and pedagogy together with policies like Ethnic Studies that support their teaching, are also steps in the right direction. There is a bill this session, House Bill 45, an Ethnic Studies bill authored by Rep. Christina Morales, is what merits specific support. And now is the time to rally for it as a way to move positively forward.

 West Texas Parent are Suing Their Schools Over Racism as Others Demand Action Over Antisemitic Bullying

LUBBOCK — Parents, full of anger and disbelief, have confronted school leaders in the Lubbock area over a series of racist and antisemitic incidents in several schools.

In total, four separate incidents have come to light in recent weeks.

Two episodes — both involving Black students targeted in constant bullying by their peers and inaction by school officials, parents say — have led to separate federal civil rights lawsuits.

At the heart of the two lawsuits is the pain parents say their children have endured as a result of months of constant and violent bullying — including an Instagram account that posted photos of Black students from a Lubbock middle school with racist captions, and racial discrimination by school officials against students at the high school in Slaton, about 17 miles south of Lubbock.

A third South Plains school district — Roosevelt ISD — had a parent file a federal complaint against them for racial discrimination by school officials. There, a mother took her daughter out of school after she claims school officials targeted her child for undue disciplinary actions.

Meanwhile, a threatening antisemitic petition was passed around by a student at another Lubbock middle school. Parents say they are disappointed the school hasn’t had a strong response.

On their own, these might seem like isolated incidents of school-age angst. However, racially driven and antisemitic incidents are on the rise in Texas. And now four different school districts in the South Plains are facing tensions emblematic of the widespread problem. Instead of addressing it directly, parents say school officials try to sweep the issues under the rug.

Lubbock-Cooper ISD — which includes Laura Bush Middle School, where the Instagram account was based — declined to comment on the federal lawsuit.

“Racism has no place at any school within Lubbock-Cooper ISD,” the district added in a statement. “It is not a reflection of our beliefs as a school and it completely contradicts the virtues we wish to instill in our students.”

Black students at the Laura Bush Middle School in Lubbock-Cooper ISD were allegedly bullied over months, including with an Instagram account that posted photos of them with racist captions. Credit: Mark Rogers for The Texas Tribune

Lubbock parents are grappling with sending their children to schools where they may not feel safe because of their skin color or religion, particularly with officials at the helm who parents no longer trust.

“They know that there’s a problem but they don’t want to do anything about it,” said Tracy Kemp, a mother of three kids in the Lubbock-Cooper district and a participant in the federal complaint. “They would rather us leave than to change.”

“They have nothing to show for it because they’ve done nothing about it,” Kemp said. “They’ve put out damage control statements because we’ve gone to the press, but they’ve never come to us.”

Parents reported the hostile acts to school administration, but they say officials didn’t take action to end the harassment and would often punish the victims. Lubbock-Cooper ISD said it has responded to complaints by instituting more diversity training among teachers, administrators and students.

A federal civil rights lawsuit alleges racial discrimination by school officials against students at the high school in Slaton, about 17 miles south of Lubbock. Credit: Mark Rogers for The Texas Tribune

Similar incidents were reported in the complaint against Slaton High School, where there are about 20 Black students. In one instance, the lawsuit claims, a Black student faced unfair punishment for retaliating against a white student for repeatedly calling her racist slurs. In a statement to NBC News, Slaton Superintendent Jim Andrus said the district trains staff regularly on how to address bullying allegations.

At Hutchinson Middle School in Lubbock, a parent alleged a student asked peers to sign a sheet of paper after calling for violence against Jewish people, according to emails obtained by The Texas Tribune. The parent suggested not all students who signed understood what it was for and some students signed, with real and fake names.

Administrators determined there was not an imminent threat to students and did not send out an email informing the public, despite being asked to do so by a Jewish parent. The school district claimed sending an email out would be a violation of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act because it could reveal the student’s identity.

Lubbock Rabbi Deborah Goldmann emailed the principal and superintendent about the incident. In emails obtained by the Tribune, Goldmann said the community learns the behavior is acceptable because there was no response.

A parent alleged a student at J.T. Hutchinson Middle School in Lubbock asked peers to sign a sheet of paper calling for violence against Jewish people, according to emails obtained by The Texas Tribune. Credit: Mark Rogers for The Texas Tribune

Michael Stewart, the principal of Hutchinson Middle School, responded to her saying the school has addressed the behavior with the individual involved and students who signed and that they are developing lessons to address the cultural and religious backgrounds of students.

“It does seem that you are beating around the bush and uncomfortable addressing antisemitism,” Goldmann wrote back. “If they felt comfortable going around asking people to sign that paper, they are in an environment where other students feel the same level of comfort.”

Roosevelt ISD, 10 miles east of Lubbock, is also facing an official complaint with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights. Kristen Arnold alleges that her daughter was being racially discriminated against by school officials and was falling behind in classes because of unjust punishments. In an effort to protect her daughter’s mental health, Arnold pulled her from Roosevelt High School just before her senior year. She is now doing a homeschool program to be able to graduate.

“They literally harassed her right out of high school,” Arnold told the Tribune. “She’s been struggling with depression and anxiety.”

According to emails obtained by the Tribune, Arnold shared her concerns and attempted to meet with Roosevelt Superintendent Dallas Grimes about the problem in May. In response, Grimes said they have heard her grievances and were aware of the report she was filing.

“Unless there is new information to educate me on, I’m not sure what the purpose of the meeting would be,” the email reads.

Arnold was intimidated by the response and withdrew her complaints, but refiled in June. The case is now pending at the federal department of education. In an email to the Tribune, Grimes said the district knew she withdrew her complaints but was unaware of the new filing.

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