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Students harassed with racist taunts, Confederate flag images in Kentucky school district, Justice Department says

What kids can understand about race
What kids can understand about race 06:17

A Kentucky school district will reform its anti-discrimination policies after a years-long investigation uncovered "serious and widespread racial harassment" targeting Black students and multiracial students in the county, federal authorities said.

Located in central Kentucky, Madison County Schools enrolls about 11,000 students across its 18 schools, according to the district. It became the subject of a federal probe in 2021, which found "numerous incidents" where Black and multiracial kids were harassed by other students because of their race, the U.S. Department of Justice announced on Monday.

Students of color in Madison County faced racist taunts and intimidation while at school, which in some instances involved the use of Confederate flags and imagery, the Justice Department said, citing situations where students contended with racial epithets, including the N-word, and other derogatory racist comments. The investigation also found a disproportionate amount of disciplinary actions taken against Black and multiracial students in some schools, coupled with "inadequate systems for recordkeeping and analysis" of disciplinary reports.

Monday's announcement noted that the school district failed to "consistently or reasonably" address these issues, and when it did, often failed to respond in accordance with its own racial harassment policies. 

Ultimately, the investigation determined that the district's "actions were ineffective in addressing the broader hostile environment," and led Black and multiracial students to believe that district officials either condoned the harassment or would not protect them from it,  the Justice Department said. 

"No student should be subject to racial harassment, including racist taunts with the Confederate flag that are clearly intended to surface some of the harshest and most brutal periods of our country's history," said Kristen Clarke, an assistant attorney general with the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, in a statement. Racism and harassment "inflicts grievous harm on young people" while also violating "the Constitution's most basic promise of equal protection," Clarke said.

Under the terms of an agreement reached with federal authorities, which will mark the end of their investigation, Madison County Schools will implement "significant institutional reforms" district-wide in an effort to disincentivize and when necessary, appropriately manage, racism, discrimination and harassment targeting students, according to the Justice Department. 

The reforms include instituting training programs for staff, keeping students and parents informed about how to report harassment and discrimination, retaining a consultant to review and revise anti-discrimination policies. In addition, new positions will explicitly include overseeing the"effective handling" of race-based discrimination complaints, and examine whether racism has played a role in disciplinary actions against students.

The district has also agreed to update its electronic reporting system to track and manage racism and harassment complaints, and hold focus groups and collect surveys to better understand the scope of racist harassment and discrimination in schools.

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