Black students were called the n-word, referred to as monkeys and told their skin looked like feces, the investigation found, with district officials “deliberately indifferent” to the “racially hostile climate.” The investigation also uncovered slurs aimed at Asian American students, who were called “yellow” and “squinty” and told to “go back to China.”
Sometimes the offensive behavior came from district staff, the investigation found, with staff members ridiculing students in front of their peers, endorsing pejorative stereotypes of people of color in class and retaliating against students of color for reporting harassment.
Under a settlement with the Justice Department, the district agreed to take several steps to better identify and respond to discrimination complaints.
“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, a member of the agency’s civil rights division, said in a statement Thursday. The department opened its investigation in July 2019, under Title IV of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
In a statement, the Davis school district pledged to correct its practices.
“The district takes these findings very seriously. They do not reflect the values of this community and the expectations of the district,” the district said. “This important work begins immediately and will continue over the next several years. … The district is wholeheartedly committed to creating and maintaining a safe and welcoming environment for all students free from harassment and discrimination.”
Per the settlement agreement, the district agreed to hire a consultant to review its anti-discrimination policies and procedures, create a department to handle complaints of race discrimination, and train staff on how to investigate and respond to complaints, among other steps.
Black and Asian American students each represent about 1 percent of the 73,000 or so students in the district, located about 17 miles north of Salt Lake City.
“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,’ ” the Justice Department said.
It found that some non-Black students demanded Black students give them an “N-word Pass,” which would allegedly give them permission to use that slur freely, and said that if Black students resisted, they were sometimes threatened or physically assaulted.
“These incidents took place on a daily or weekly basis,” the investigation found. Some middle- and high school students said they had experienced racial harassment every year since kindergarten.
Black students reported that some of the incidents happened in front of teachers and other staff and that some would not intervene or respond. The investigation found that the district had “actual knowledge” of at least 212 incidents across 27 schools in which Black students were called the n-word. The Justice Department said that because it focused on a sampling of schools and because the district’s responses were incomplete, the total number is probably higher.
“Despite being on notice of pervasive racially hostile incidents across District schools, frequently the District ignored parent, student and advocate complaints completely, dismissed them as `inconclusive’ even when corroborated by other witnesses, or merely told the harassing student(s) not to do it again, even when the student had harassed Black or Asian-American students previously,” the Justice Department said.
In response to offensive language, the investigation found, school officials sometimes told Black and Asian American students to “not be so sensitive” or would excuse the comments by saying their peers were “not trying to be racist.” Several teachers admitted they had heard students use the n-word and did not report it to administrators, rather telling the students to “watch their language.”
Investigators also reviewed discipline files from 2017 to 2019 and found Black students received harsher discipline than similarly situated White students for similar offenses, a pattern that has been found in many school systems. In several cases, Black students were suspended, whereas their White peers were given a conference.
The investigation concluded, too, that Davis denied Black student requests to form student groups aimed at exploring their culture and helping them feel less isolated, but approved similar requests from other students.
“School and District officials offered no legal justification for denying requests from Black students to form such student groups,” the investigation concluded. “One administrator told us that she `didn’t think [such a club] was appropriate for school.' ”