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Lawsuit accuses school district of racism

A federal lawsuit filed this week in San Francisco charges Eureka school officials with racial and sexual harassment of minority students.

Filed on behalf of four teenagers and the Wiyot Tribe of the Table Bluff Rancheria, the ACLU of Northern California and the National Center for Youth Law, the lawsuit names Eureka City Schools Superintendent Fred Van Vleck and other officials as being complicit in propagating offensive practices like “titty-twisting Tuesdays” and “slap-ass Friday.”

The lawsuit also accuses the district of teaching racially insensitive curricula:

“District school curriculum includes materials that use the words savage, negro, and nigger, yet school staff fail to discuss the offensiveness or historical context of these terms.”

The suit also alleges the school district doles out extra harsh punishment of Native American and African American students and regularly suspends or expels Native American students for minor infractions.

School district data from the 2011-2012 school year shows suspensions for black and Native American students are three to five times that of white students, the lawsuit said.

The 51-page lawsuit adds:

“District staff witness and sometimes even participate in these practices, demonstrating to students that sexual harassment is acceptable in district schools.”

Native American students are allegedly physically assaulted and verbally abused with racial slurs at Loleta Elementary School. Loleta students would have their ears grabbed by the school superintendent who would then claim:

“See how red it’s getting?”

Native American students would be referred to as “goats” or “sheep” during board meetings, which the ACLU says recalls a time of rampant abuse of Native Americans which began in the late 1870s.

Michael Harris, senior attorney with the National Center for Youth Law, said in a statement:

 “Black and Native American students in Eureka and Loleta are routinely subjected to unacceptable and unconstitutional racially discriminatory treatment.”

Eureka City Schools issued a press release the same day:

“At this time we are not aware of evidence to support the allegations. … As a district, we take the allegations seriously, and we are actively investigating the charges to determine the facts.”

Jory Steele, an ACLU managing attorney believes the students of Eureka City Schools need safeguards in place:

“School officials must be held accountable for failing to uphold their obligation to ensure that all Eureka students are protected from harassment and discrimination.”

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