ACLU lawsuit says Georgia school district ignored racism targeting Black students

Jun 23, 2023, 2:23 PM

SAVANNAH, Ga. (AP) — Four Black students sued a Georgia school district in federal court Friday, saying teachers and administrators violated their civil rights by fostering “a longstanding and ongoing environment of racial discrimination.”

The American Civil Liberties Union filed the civil lawsuit in U.S. District Court against the Effingham County School District in southeast Georgia.

The unnamed teenage plaintiffs, identified only by their initials, allege that school officials ignored complaints of white students casually using racist slurs, and at times made Black students feel like troublemakers for reporting them.

A Black student identified only as N.T. said that after posting his reaction on social media to racist comments by white peers, his high school’s athletic director “blamed Black students for the White students’ language, asserting that White students used racial epithets because Black students used racial language when talking to each other,” according to the lawsuit.

A Black girl identified only as H.L. says that in September 2020 she started crying after white students in her class mockingly reenacted the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers, which she recorded with her cellphone.

The lawsuit says the white students were removed from the school and didn’t return until the following academic year. But it also says the school principal told H.L. “to delete the video from her phone and told her not to send it to anyone else.”

Another Black girl, identified as G.L. in the lawsuit, says high school administrators sent her home for wearing red braids in her hair, with one of them saying: “you know that’s not a natural color for your kind.” While the school dress code requires students to keep their hair in natural colors, the lawsuit said, white girls were allowed to attend with hair dyed purple and green.

Effingham County School Superintendent Yancy Ford declined Friday to comment on the allegations in the lawsuit. But Ford denied that his school district permits race discrimination.

“Regardless of the details alleged, the Effingham County School District does not tolerate racism or discrimination whatsoever,” Ford said in an emailed statement. “And I will continue to work toward ensuring all students in the District are able to enjoy a learning environment free from negative impacts of racial bias, prejudice, and discrimination.”

About 65,000 people live in rural and suburban communities in Effingham County west of Savannah. The county’s population is 80% white and 16% Black, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Effingham High School’s sports teams compete as the Rebels with a Confederate soldier mascot. The lawsuit says the district has allowed students to wear clothing decorated with Confederate flags but prohibited Black Lives Matter T-shirts.

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ACLU lawsuit says Georgia school district ignored racism targeting Black students