Administrators at a Missouri school district that is the subject of a federal civil rights investigation failed to protect a Black teen from repeated racial taunts that culminated with him being threatened with a lynching, a lawsuit alleges.
The suit filed this month in state court described what happened as “outrageous” and sought unspecified damages against the 3,500-student Kearney school district, which is just north of Kansas City. The situation got so bad that the teen, identified as K.W., called his parents in tears, saying the white students were trying to “incite violence against him” and that he “could not take it anymore.” The teen’s parents pulled him from the school.
The district said in a statement that it doesn’t respond to pending litigation but is committed to “fully to ensuring that every student can learn in an environment free of discrimination in any form.”
Online U.S. Department of Education records show there are two open racial harassment investigations involving the district. The department’s Office for Civil Rights does not discuss the details of its pending investigations. Dozens of other districts around the country also are under investigation, the records show.
The lawsuit alleges that issues arose during the 2018-19 and 2019-20 school year when the student was attending Kearney High School. The suit says fewer than 2% of its students are Black and 92% are white.
When K.W. joined the swim team, white swimmers told him that he needed to “shave his hair short and dye it blonde,” the suit said. The student’s sister, who according to the suit also had been tormented when she was in junior high, reported what had happened to the coach.
In one instance, she went to a teacher and a principal to report that she had been called a racial slur in class and was told the situation would be dealt with at a “future date” because the student had a football game and his dad was a coach, the suit said.
Another time, a white high school classmate took a picture of K.W. and superimposed a racial slur over the top of it. The situation was reported to administrators.
In January of 2019, two white Kearney high school students began to send K.W. pictures of themselves posing with a confederate flag, with messages such as “Heritage but mostly hate brotha.” The teen’s mother told administrators.
The suit said that one of K.W.’s harassers was a girl, who told him that he couldn’t do “nothing about” the racist comments she made on social media because if he tried she would have all the white people in town beat him. An algebra teacher who overheard the conversation escorted K.W. to the office, where the principal told him to ignore the girl because she was poorer than he was, the suit said.
The situation only got worse, with white students tormenting him with monkey sounds, the suit said.
K.W. also received anonymous messages condemning him for the way he treated the white girl. One message said: “I hope I see your black ass in tree. Alabama wind chime style.” The messages to K.W. continued: “I hope you and your monkey family gets jumped by all the whites in Kearney.”
The suit described the harassment as “terrifying at times” and said the district “tacitly condoned and tolerated” what happened because it was was slow to act and then took only “ineffective remedial action.”
The family’s attorney, Dan Curry, said in a statement that K.W., transferred to a different area district, where he “thrived and graduated.”
“But,” Curry added, “no child should have to experience sustained racial harassment at school, and it affected my client immediately and viscerally.”