Student sues district, claims it failed to respond to racial… | TCTA
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Student sues district, claims it failed to respond to racial discrimination

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A student filed suit against a school district in federal court, alleging that the district failed to respond appropriately to incidents of racial discrimination by her peers. Following a trial, the district court found in favor of the school district. The student appealed to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.

The claims of racial discrimination involved three incidents.

The first was an incident in which the student's bandmates presented her with a "sass-quatch" award at the end of the year banquet. The award was created by students and was intended to be a joke. It included a trophy and certificate, which read, "For being one of the absolute sassiest members of the Front Ensemble. There is no denying your impressive ability to make any other member of the Front Ensemble either jealous or enraged at your ability to make split-second savage remarks. Great job, what a feat."

The district court determined at trial that neither the student nor her parents reported any concerns to the district regarding this award until they filed their complaint.

The second allegation involved the use of racial slurs against the student by her peers. The district court found that when these were reported to administration, the allegations were investigated by administration and the issues were addressed with the students involved in the incidents.

The third allegation involved the presence of racist graffiti in a school restroom and on the door of a barn used by the FFA. The student saw the graffiti but did not report it to school administration.

In order for a plaintiff to win a lawsuit for student-on-student harassment against a school district, the student must show that:

  1. the harassment was so severe, pervasive and objectively offensive that it can be said to deprive the victim of access to educational opportunities or benefits provided by the school;
  2. the district had actual knowledge of the harassment;
  3. the district had control over the harasser; and
  4. the district was deliberately indifferent to the harassment.

The court determined that the district did not have actual knowledge of the allegations involving the "sass-quatch" award and the graffiti because the student did not report them to the district.

It then examined the question of whether the district was deliberately indifferent to the allegations of racial slurs. The student argued that the district did little more than verbally reprimand the students when other more severe forms of discipline were available.

The court noted that, under the law, a school district is not "deliberately indifferent" where it actively responds to harassment, provided that the response is not pretextual or knowingly ineffective. The district is not required to prove that its actions put an end to the harassment. To show deliberate indifference, the student must prove that the district's actions were clearly unreasonable in light of the known circumstances. In this case, she failed to do so.

The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the decision of the district court in the school district's favor.