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Lawsuit alleges Black students were racially profiled, called slurs in Livingston County schools

Lawsuit alleges civil rights violations in Livingston County schools
Lawsuit alleges civil rights violations in Livingston County schools 02:31

(CBS DETROIT) — The parents of five students in Livingston County schools have filed a lawsuit alleging that their children faced racial slurs and derogatory comments from other students, and claim school officials didn't do anything about it. 

The lawsuit was filed by Marko Law this week and addresses alleged discrimination students faced at Navigator Upper Elementary School and Pathfinder Middle School, which are both part of the Pinckney Community Schools district. 

It was filed against the school district, Superintendent Rick Todd, Navigator Principal Janet McDole and Pathfinder Principal Lori Sandula. 

The suit alleges that students at these schools were called "cotton pickers," "monkeys," the "N-word" and were told they "don't belong." The suit also says students say they received death threats due to their race, and the suit says despite knowing about these interactions, the school district "turned a blind eye" and didn't "meaningfully address the racism." 

Of the 2,332 students enrolled in Pinckney Community Schools, 92.3% of the students are white, according to the lawsuit. 

During the 2022-23 school year, one student at Pathfinder Middle School faced derogatory comments, was physically assaulted and would try to avoid harassment from other students by hiding in the hallways and waiting for them to go to class before she traveled down the hall, according to the lawsuit. This student would then be written up for being tardy to her classes. 

A second student said they were also called racial slurs while at the middle school during the 2021-22 school year, and the lawsuit says students made the comment "Wakanda forever my brother," to the student on Dec. 8, 2021, referencing the 2018 Marvel movie "Black Panther."

Around this time, this second student allegedly saw white students teasing an Indian student by asking if they "could put a red dot on their forehead." The second student's parent said they reported the harassment to Sandula and Todd on Dec. 9, 2021.

About two months later, the second student was involved in an altercation with another student over racial harassment, and school officials suspended the student who reported being harassed. Over the next month, that student's parent set up a meeting with Todd and Sandula, but it allegedly got canceled and never happened. The altercations and racial comments continued through the rest of the year and into 2023. 

The lawsuit alleges that students in one of the plaintiff's classes at Navigator Upper Elementary were passing around a note that said "N-word pass" on it, which "purported to give the kids a pass to say the N-word."

The teacher intercepted the note, and gave it to the principal. The school district said it investigated the incident. This third student's parents were not notified after, and the student continued to be called racial slurs by other students.

After reporting the bullying to the school and nothing being done, the parents allegedly contacted the father of the other kid to let him know how his kid was calling their child the "N-word" and he said the school never notified him about the incident. The father asked his son about the incident, and he admitted that he had called the plaintiff the "N-word."

When the father asked the school why they didn't tell him about this, McDole told him "she did not want to bring negative attention to the situation or for the children to be labeled racist," according to the lawsuit.

Yet another student was allegedly called "a dumb Black kid" in front of their teacher, who the suit says didn't respond or do anything after witnessing this. Later in the year, the same student was called racial slurs, and in response the targeted student pushed the harasser, who then choked the student, according to the lawsuit. The student who reported being harassed was suspended for two days.

The lawsuit alleges Pinckney Community Schools violated Title VI because it "effectively caused, encouraged, accepted, tolerated, or failed to correct a hostile environment, based on race, of which it had actual or constructive notice."

CBS News Detroit reached out to Todd, who said, "I just learned of this filing this morning via the media as I have not yet received any official notice and at this time, am not at liberty to speak on behalf of the lawsuit. Thank you for understanding."

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