Justice Department settles with Kentucky school district over racial harassment

The U.S. Justice Department says a Kentucky school district has agreed to make “institutional changes” to resolve a federal investigation into complaints of widespread harassment of Black and multiracial students

By BRUCE SCHREINER Associated Press

FRANKFORT, Ky. — A Kentucky school district has agreed to make “institutional changes” to settle a federal investigation into complaints of widespread harassment of Black and multiracial students, the U.S. Justice Department announced.

The investigation of the Madison County school district, launched in October 2021, uncovered numerous cases of race-based harassment in which Black and multiracial students were subjected to derogatory racial comments by their peers, the Justice Department said in a news release Monday. It found that the district failed to “consistently or reasonably” address the problems, including racial taunts and intimidation, at times reinforced by displays of the Confederate flag, the department said.

When the district did respond, it often failed to follow its own anti-racial harassment policies and ineffectively addressed the “broader hostile environment,” the department said. The situation deprived Black and multiracial students of equal access to educational opportunities, the DOJ said.

“Racial harassment inflicts grievous harm on young people and violates the Constitution’s most basic promise of equal protection,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “This agreement will create the institutional changes needed to keep Black and multiracial students safe and to provide them with a supportive educational environment.”

The school district — based in Richmond, Kentucky, about 28 miles (45 kilometers) southeast of Lexington — said it fully cooperated with the investigation.

The investigation also raised concerns about racially disproportionate disciplining of Black students at some schools and inadequate record keeping and analysis of disciplinary data.

The district agreed to take “all necessary and reasonable steps,” consistent with federal law, to end racial harassment and prevent recurrence, the department said.

It agreed to retain a consultant to revise anti-discrimination policies. It also plans to create three new positions to oversee how racial discrimination complaints are handled, and will update how it tracks and responds to race-based harassment.

Additional measures will include training staff to identify, investigate and respond to racial harassment and discriminatory discipline practices and informing students and parents how to report harassment and discrimination.

Carlton S. Shier IV, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Kentucky, said the investigation’s principles and settlement are straightforward.

“All young people are entitled to seek their educational opportunities without facing racial harassment and abuse, and schools simply must adequately protect those entrusted to their care and instruction from that offensive, harmful behavior,” Shier said.