The lawsuit ties back to an incident in late September at Park Hill South High School in Missouri. The Associated Press reports that a small group of students posted a petition calling for the return of slavery during a school-related activity. Park Hill School District Superintendent Jeanette Cowherd did not reveal the names of the students that were involved, but she did issue a letter reaffirming the school district’s commitment to rid clasrooms of discrimination and harassment.
“I cannot share the specifics of any particular student’s discipline but I can tell you that we follow our Board policy when disciplining students,” Cowherd told the Associated Press.
“I think that a large portion of our population is hurt, mad, outraged and confused and want to use it as way to make Park Hill South better,” Park Hill South High School Principal Katie Herren added.
Ultimately, KCUR reports that one student was expelled and three other students were suspended for 180 days. Now, those four students are filing a federal civil lawsuit against the school district. The group claims that the school violated their First Amendment rights and failed to give them due process. In the end, the four students hope to be reinstated and have their records expunged.
In the lawsuit, the four students claim the petition started during a bus ride to a football game. While traveling to the game, a student who is identified as biracial and a student who is identified as Black engaged in “playful bantering about jobs and slaves.” As the “playful” banter continued, one student started to create a “Start slavery again” petition on Change.org and the other student encouraged him to post it online. By the end of the football game, more than a dozen students had interacted the petition.
“I love slavery,” one student commented.
“I hate Blacks,” another student commented.
KCUR reports that a parent caught wind of the petition and notified the school. Not long thereafter, the students were interviewed by school administrators. The school’s principal, Katie Herren, then sent an email to parents informing them that she had just learned about “some unacceptable and racist statements that some students posted online.” Despite creating a petition that calls for the return of slavery, the four students and their attorney, Arthur Benson II, maintain that it was meant to be a “joke.”
“Fourteen-year-olds sometimes unwisely shoot their mouths off, instantly regretting it but causing no harm, no disruption,” attorney Arthur Benson II told KCUR.
“But here it was adults who unwisely over-reacted, causing the disruptions and they are now trying to strip these boys of their entire ninth grades.”
Despite pushback from the four students, the school district has no intention to rescind the punishment handed down to the students.
“As this lawsuit describes, we took prompt, decisive action to enforce our policies prohibiting discrimination, harassment and uncivil behavior,” Park Hill School District spokesperson Nicole Kirby told KCUR.
“The suit shares that we expelled one student and suspended three others for 180 days. We will be able to share further details when we respond to this lawsuit in court.”
Reading about Black trauma can have an impact on your mental health. If you or someone you know need immediate mental health help, text “STRENGTH” to the Crisis Text Line at 741-741 to be connected to a certified crisis counselor. These additional resources are also available:
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255
The National Alliance on Mental Illness 1-800-950-6264
The Association of Black Psychologists 1-301-449-3082
The Anxiety and Depression Association of America 1-240-485-1001
For more mental health resources, click HERE.
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