In 2020, a 10th-grade Black female student attending high school in Vermont began experiencing severe harassment and racial discrimination from her classmates. The girl was new to the school, as well as the only Black student, and despite “repeated derogatory racial slurs, references to white supremacy and threats of physical violence,” the school did “nothing” to help her.
Now, the ACLU and the Vermont Human Rights Commission have stepped in, filing a complaint on the girl’s behalf against the school for its repeated failure to protect her while on school property.
Lisa Rathke of the Associated Press reported that “the ACLU of Vermont filed the complaint on behalf of the student, accusing Twin Valley Middle High School in Whitingham of unlawfully depriving the student ‘of her right to have a school environment free of racial discrimination.’”
In a statement, ACLU of Vermont Executive Director James Lyall said, “Our client was driven from her school after the people she turned to for help did nothing to support her and further emboldened her abusers. Racist harassment and bullying remain a common experience for students of color in Vermont, and the state has a responsibility to do much more to prevent incidents like these from recurring day after day and year after year.”
According to Rathke, “superintendent Barbara Anne Komons-Montroll disputes the allegations against the school administration. She said by email that the district maintains strict policies against harassment and is ‘committed to eliminating racism from our schools.’”
Komons-Montroll went on to tell AP that school administrators notified families and conducted their own investigation as soon as they were made aware of the student’s allegations. She also said the school took “appropriate disciplinary action” against the bullying students and that incidents hadn’t been repeated.
The student’s complaint appears to differ from Komons-Montroll’s account. In the report, the Black student said that among the abuse she endured, she was called a racial slur in front of a teacher by a male student. Several months later, a group of male students also directed Nazi salutes at her while saying she should “burn.” The complaint said that incident was also apparently recorded and shared over Snapchat.
Rathke reported that per the ACLU and the Vermont Human Rights Commission, “the school initiated an investigation and found a ‘substantiation of a violation of the school’s policy,’ but did not provide a tangible plan to protect the student.”
The ACLU went on to say that “the student feared for her safety and dropped out of school sports, her grades fell, and she developed anxiety and depression, forcing her ultimately to transfer to another school.”
Still, despite the allegations, Komons-Montroll is convinced the school took appropriate action in the matter and will “prevail in any litigation on the matter.”
“We will zealously defend our actions before the Human Rights Commission and in any subsequent litigation,” she told the AP by email.