Just weeks after the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) issued its ruling against the Burlington Area School District (BASD) for their failure to redress their “hostile racial environment,” the Burlington Coalition for Dismantling Racism (BCDR) has received additional reports of the District mishandling acts of racism in its schools.

The Burlington Coalition recently received complaints from multiple people alleging that students of color were the targets of severe and pervasive use of racial slurs, harassment, and hate speech. According to evidence provided, students were called the N-word multiple times, and told many other racially offensive things in attempts to intimidate.

Despite DPI’s ruling about the District’s responsibilities to ensure families are able to report harassment and to put the onus on the harassers when these situations occur, that has not been happening. Instead, it has been reported that the parent of one targeted student was ignored by Ms. Phillips, Karcher Middle School’s Assistant Principal, when they requested to file an official discrimination complaint.

“Ignoring a parent who is trying to file a complaint because of how their child was treated is evidence that BASD has already failed to implement the directives it received from DPI,” said Darnisha Garbade, Founder and President of BCDR. “DPI’s April 9 ruling clearly stated that, ‘At a minimum, the school’s responsibilities include making sure that the harassed students and their families know how to report any subsequent problems, conducting follow‐up inquiries to see if there have been any new incidents or any instances of retaliation, and responding promptly and appropriately to address continuing or new problems.’”

In another instance, the District also allegedly put the burden on the impacted child and their family, stating that the student should have defended themself, conducted their own investigation, and refrained from informing Burlington’s legislature about the incidents, while simultaneously downplaying the racism.

There remains a dire need for the District to make some drastic and effective policy changes. Its failure to act appropriately and impartially further contributes to the racially hostile environment that DPI’s investigation confirmed:

“These incidents reflect a persistent shifting of the obligation from both the district and the perpetrators to Student… to bear responsibility for the racially hostile environment. …BASD asked Student… to consider and change her own behavior to end the harassment while failing to effectively address the individuals perpetrating the harassment. BASD continually treated Student A as part of the problem instead of the target of the concerning behavior. This both perpetuated the racially hostile environment and is evidence of BASD’s failure to appropriately respond to the racially hostile environment.”

The Burlington Coalition issued an open letter to the District on April 13, calling upon Superintendent Plank and the Board to collaborate in discussing their corrective action plan, which DPI ordered to be completed by May 9. The District responded by stating that the Board needed to schedule a meeting to discuss the corrective action plan and could not commit to who would be involved in the process.

“As if it wasn’t bad enough for this parent to be ignored, the BASD added insult to injury by shifting the burden to the student of color,” Garbade added. “Instead of telling the victim to consider how they should act in the face of racial harassment, the District should be seeking justice for the children of color who were impacted and addressing how the harassers should act differently.”

While the District waits to meet, children of color are still suffering and enduring racism on their watch. The Burlington Coalition renewed its demand that the District provide supportive services for the impacted students.

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Darnisha Garbade and Burlington Area School District