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West Texas parents are suing their schools over racism

WEST TEXAS PARENTS.JPG
Mark Rogers
/
The Texas Tribune
Tracy Kemp stands outside of Laura Bush Middle School on Dec. 14, 2022. Both of Kemp’s sons attend Lubbock-Cooper ISD schools and have been experiencing racism from classmates throughout this school year. She is part of a federal civil rights complaint filed along with other local families, the Intercultural Development Research Association and the Lubbock NAACP.

School leaders have said they don’t tolerate racism and that they regularly train teachers how to deal with bullying. But parents say inaction by officials tells a different story.

LUBBOCK — Parents, full of anger and disbelief, have confronted school leaders in the Lubbock area over a series of racist and antisemitic incidents in several schools.

In total, four separate incidents have come to light in recent weeks.

Two episodes — both involving Black students targeted in constant bullying by their peers and inaction by school officials, parents say — have led to separate federal civil rights lawsuits.

At the heart of the two lawsuits is the pain parents say their children have endured as a result of months of constant and violent bullying — including an Instagram account that posted photos of Black students from a Lubbock middle school with racist captions, and racial discrimination by school officials against students at the high school in Slaton, about 17 miles south of Lubbock.

A third South Plains school district — Roosevelt ISD — had a parent file a federal complaint against them for racial discrimination by school officials. There, a mother took her daughter out of school after she claims school officials targeted her child for undue disciplinary actions.

Meanwhile, a threatening antisemitic petition was passed around by a student at another Lubbock middle school. Parents say they are disappointed the school hasn’t had a strong response.

On their own, these might seem like isolated incidents of school-age angst. However, racially driven and antisemitic incidents are on the rise in Texas. And now four different school districts in the South Plains are facing tensions emblematic of the widespread problem. Instead of addressing it directly, parents say school officials try to sweep the issues under the rug.

Lubbock-Cooper ISD — which includes Laura Bush Middle School, where the Instagram account was based — declined to comment on the federal lawsuit.

“Racism has no place at any school within Lubbock-Cooper ISD,” the district added in a statement. “It is not a reflection of our beliefs as a school and it completely contradicts the virtues we wish to instill in our students.”

Middle school.JPG
Mark Rogers
/
The Texas Tribune
Black students at the Laura Bush Middle School in Lubbock-Cooper ISD were allegedly bullied over months, including with an Instagram account that posted photos of them with racist captions.

Lubbock parents are grappling with sending their children to schools where they may not feel safe because of their skin color or religion, particularly with officials at the helm who parents no longer trust.

“They know that there’s a problem but they don’t want to do anything about it,” said Tracy Kemp, a mother of three kids in the Lubbock-Cooper district and a participant in the federal complaint. “They would rather us leave than to change.”

Black students make up 3% of Lubbock-Cooper’s student body. The complaint, which was a joint filing with the families, Intercultural Development Research Association and the Lubbock NAACP, alleges the school is known for its frequent, consistent and extreme discriminatory practices against its Black students.

The Lubbock-Cooper school district covers Southwest Lubbock, serving families on the farthest edges of Lubbock’s newest developed area and families from nearby communities.

The complaint details the near-daily harassment and bullying several Black students had to endure since last spring, which included being called racial slurs and hearing the sounds of cracking whips as they walked through the halls.

The complaint also alleges that the incidents — which lasted for months — would often lead to physical threats and acts of violence against Black students by their white peers. Kemp’s son was one of the students targeted in these assaults. Kemp thinks the attacks escalated because she was bringing attention to the matter. The school, she said, still hasn’t had a meaningful response in more than eight months.

“They have nothing to show for it because they’ve done nothing about it,” Kemp said. “They’ve put out damage control statements because we’ve gone to the press, but they’ve never come to us.”

Parents reported the hostile acts to school administration, but they say officials didn’t take action to end the harassment and would often punish the victims. Lubbock-Cooper ISD said it has responded to complaints by instituting more diversity training among teachers, administrators and students.

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Mark Rogers
/
The Texas Tribune
A federal civil rights lawsuit alleges racial discrimination by school officials against students at the high school in Slaton, about 17 miles south of Lubbock.

Similar incidents were reported in the complaint against Slaton High School, where there are about 20 Black students. In one instance, the lawsuit claims, a Black student faced unfair punishment for retaliating against a white student for repeatedly calling her racist slurs. In a statement to NBC News, Slaton Superintendent Jim Andrus said the district trains staff regularly on how to address bullying allegations.

At Hutchinson Middle School in Lubbock, a parent alleged a student asked peers to sign a sheet of paper after calling for violence against Jewish people, according to emails obtained by The Texas Tribune. The parent suggested not all students who signed understood what it was for and some students signed, with real and fake names.

Administrators determined there was not an imminent threat to students and did not send out an email informing the public, despite being asked to do so by a Jewish parent. The school district claimed sending an email out would be a violation of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act because it could reveal the student’s identity.

Lubbock Rabbi Deborah Goldmann emailed the principal and superintendent about the incident. In emails obtained by the Tribune, Goldmann said the community learns the behavior is acceptable because there was no response.

Hutchinson Middle  school.JPG
Mark Rogers
/
The Texas Tribune
A parent alleged a student at J.T. Hutchinson Middle School in Lubbock asked peers to sign a sheet of paper calling for violence against Jewish people, according to emails obtained by The Texas Tribune.

Michael Stewart, the principal of Hutchinson Middle School, responded to her saying the school has addressed the behavior with the individual involved and students who signed and that they are developing lessons to address the cultural and religious backgrounds of students.

“It does seem that you are beating around the bush and uncomfortable addressing antisemitism,” Goldmann wrote back. “If they felt comfortable going around asking people to sign that paper, they are in an environment where other students feel the same level of comfort.”

Roosevelt ISD, 10 miles east of Lubbock, is also facing an official complaint with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights. Kristen Arnold alleges that her daughter was being racially discriminated against by school officials and was falling behind in classes because of unjust punishments. In an effort to protect her daughter’s mental health, Arnold pulled her from Roosevelt High School just before her senior year. She is now doing a homeschool program to be able to graduate.

“They literally harassed her right out of high school,” Arnold told the Tribune. “She’s been struggling with depression and anxiety.”

According to emails obtained by the Tribune, Arnold shared her concerns and attempted to meet with Roosevelt Superintendent Dallas Grimes about the problem in May. In response, Grimes said they have heard her grievances and were aware of the report she was filing.

“Unless there is new information to educate me on, I’m not sure what the purpose of the meeting would be,” the email reads.

Arnold was intimidated by the response and withdrew her complaints, but refiled in June. The case is now pending at the federal department of education. In an email to the Tribune, Grimes said the district knew she withdrew her complaints but was unaware of the new filing.