A group of parents has alleged that a Minnesota school system fostered a hostile environment in which Black students were beaten, kicked, punched, harassed and occasionally spit on. Through a lawsuit, Kali Proctor, Katelyn Hansen, Roynetter Birgans and Desmond Gilbert is hoping to receive monetary compensation and spark institutional change within Duluth Edison Charter Schools.
“There’s been a lot of frustrated families in the Duluth Edison community,” attorney Rebekah Bailey told NBC News on behalf of the parental group.
“The families in this case, all they really ever wanted is for their children to be treated fairly at school. They fought long and hard to remedy their individual situations as best they could through the system. This case was only filed when they exhausted those opportunities.”
A deep dive into the lawsuit reveals a number of instances in which Black students say they were abused. NBC News reports that a teacher allegedly cut a student's dreadlock off and threw it in the trash. There were other instances in which Black students were called monkeys and told that they “look like what’s inside a toilet.” Adding on, the lawsuit describes an instance in which a white student spit on a Black student so "profusely" that she had to change her clothes.
A dozen of organizations have stepped up to offer support for the parents' efforts. In September, the American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota, the National Women’s Law Center and several other groups came together to file an amicus brief in addition to the lawsuit that was filed more than two years ago.
The Duluth Edison Charter School System recently attempted to have the lawsuit thrown out. DECS attorney Tim Sullivan told NBC News that “the facts gathered [in the lawsuit] demonstrate that there is neither a factual nor legal basis to support the claims asserted against my client.”
“[DECS] denies any allegation of discriminatory conduct and has vigorously defended itself against these false allegations," DECS spokesperson Tammy Rackliffe told NBC News.
“There is nothing more important to Duluth Edison Charter Schools than the well-being of the students we educate every day. Duluth Edison Charter Schools has welcomed a diverse community of learners for nearly 25 years. Throughout that time, we have remained committed to creating a respectful, inclusive and safe learning environment for students, staff and our families."
Despite Rackliffe's claims, parents and students throughout the school system did not enjoy a "respectful, inclusive and safe learning environment."
“It really breaks my heart because while all the other kids are dreaming of their life, he was dreaming of equality,” Proctor explained to NBC News.
"They have policies and procedures in place, but I felt they really weren’t following through with what was being said.”
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.