DAVIS COUNTY, Utah, Oct. 21, 2021 (Gephardt Daily) — The Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division and the United States Attorney’s Office for Utah announced a settlement agreement with Utah’s Davis School District to address race discrimination in the schools.
DOJ investigators found “serious and widespread racial harassment of Black and Asian-American students,” the agency’s news release says. A DOJ statement issued Thursday says the department opened its investigation in July 2019 under Title IV of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
“The investigation revealed persistent failures to respond to reports of race-based harassment of Black and Asian-American students by district staff and other students,” the DOJ statement says. “The department’s review, which focused on 2015-2020, found hundreds of documented uses of the N-word, among other racial epithets, derogatory racial comments, and physical assaults targeting district students at dozens of schools.”
Peers “taunted Black students by making monkey noises at them, touching and pulling their hair without permission, repeatedly referencing slavery and lynching, and telling Black students ‘go pick cotton’ and ‘you are my slave,'” a summary of the case says. “Harassment related to slavery increased when schools taught the subject, which some Black students felt was not taught in a respectful or considerate manner. White and other non-Black students demanded that Black students give them an ‘N-Word Pass,’ which non-Black students claimed gave them permission to use the ‘N-word’ with impunity, including to and around Black students. If Black students resisted these demands, they were sometimes threatened or physically assaulted.”
Some students in middle school or high school told DOJ investigators they had experienced racial harassment since kindergarten, the summary says.
“Students who attended school in other districts told us that the harassment they experienced in Davis schools was worse by far.”
The DOJ interviewed students on site multiple times during the investigation.
“The department concluded that for years, Davis’s ineffective response left students vulnerable to continued harassment and that students believed the district condoned the behavior. The department also found that Davis disciplined Black students more harshly than their white peers for similar behavior and that Davis denied Black students the ability to form student groups while supporting similar requests by other students.”
Black and Asian-American students are each roughly 1 percent of the approximately 73,000 students enrolled in the district, the DOJ statement says.
“Pervasive racial harassment and other forms of racial discrimination in public schools violate the Constitution’s most basic promise of equal protection,” Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Civil Rights Division said in the prepared statement.
“This agreement will help generate the institutional change necessary to keep Black and Asian-American students safe. We look forward to Davis demonstrating to its students and school community that it will no longer tolerate racial discrimination in its schools.”
Andrea Martinez, acting United States Attorney for the District of Utah, thanked Davis School District parents and students for their cooperation in the investigation.
“As the federal partners who work and live in this community, we are hopeful that this agreement is the start of a new chapter in which Black and Asian-American students will attend Davis schools without fear,” she said.
Under the agreement, Davis School District will retain a consultant to review and revise anti-discrimination policies and procedures and support the district as it undertakes significant institutional reforms. Among other steps, Davis will:
- Create a new department to handle complaints of race discrimination
- Train staff on how to identify, investigate, and respond to complaints of racial harassment and discriminatory discipline practices
- Inform students and parents of how to report harassment and discrimination
- Create a centralized, electronic reporting system to track and manage complaints and Davis’ response to complaints
- Implement student, staff, and parent training and education on identifying and preventing race discrimination, including discriminatory harassment
- Analyze and review discipline data and amend policies to ensure non-discriminatory enforcement of discipline policies
- Develop a districtwide procedure to assess requests for student groups and treat such requests fairly
Protecting the constitutional rights of public school students is a top priority of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, the DOJ statement says.
Additional information about the Civil Rights Division is available on its website at www.justice.gov/crt, and additional information about the work of the Educational Opportunities Section is available on this link.
Davis School District statement
The Davis School District provided the following statement to Gephardt Daily:
“The Board of Education of the Davis School District has entered into a settlement agreement with the U.S.
“Department of Justice to resolve a two-year investigation into race-based incidents in the district. The investigation included numerous interviews and a review of incidents dating back to the 2015-2016 school year.
“During the investigation, the district was made aware of serious incidents of racial harassment and discrimination and instances where those incidents were not handled appropriately.
“The district takes these findings very seriously. They do not reflect the values of this community and the expectations of the district. The district pledges to correct these practices.
“The agreement details specific steps the district will take to strengthen its procedures, training and practices for investigation and resolving allegations of racial harassment and discrimination. The district takes seriously its duty to promptly and appropriately investigate and resolve any complaints of discrimination, including harassment on the basis of race.
“This important work begins immediately and will continue over the next several years. Within the next 30 days, the district will share additional information with parents, staff, and students outlining the initial steps it will take to implement the needed changes.
“The district is wholeheartedly committed to creating and maintaining a safe and welcoming environment for all students free from harassment and discrimination.”