ACLU files federal complaint against Oshkosh public schools

Action 2 News obtained a copy of the complaint. What the ACLU claims, and how the school district responds.
Published: Apr. 28, 2022 at 4:54 PM CDT|Updated: Apr. 29, 2022 at 6:57 PM CDT
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OSHKOSH, Wis. (WBAY) - The ACLU of Wisconsin says it filed a federal complaint against the Oshkosh Area School District claiming “pervasive discrimination” against Black students.

The ACLU says the complaint filed earlier this week asks the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights to investigate the expulsion of Black middle school students when they were racially harassed at school.

Many of the incidents took place at Merrill Middle School. The ACLU says it’s acting on behalf of a mother who has a seventh- and a sixth-grader there.

According to the ACLU: Seven Black students were referred for expulsion after an incident at a Halloween dance instigated by a white student who threw water on them and used racial slurs. It’s alleged the principal dragged one of the Black students out of the dance and called police. School administrators sought juvenile charges of disorderly conduct against the Black students but administrators didn’t punish or seek charges against the white student. The ACLU says even at one boy’s expulsion hearing, a school board official said the racial harassment was “not relevant.”

In a statement, the Oshkosh Area School District said it’s not in a position to comment on the complaint because the district hasn’t received it. It confirmed the “ACLU appeared in a student expulsion matter,” and after a hearing with an independent officer the student was expelled for “endangering the property, health, and safety of others while at school and for repeated rule violations.” It said the ACLU appealed to the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, which upheld the expulsion.

The ACLU alleged in its complaint that the sixth-grade girl says she experienced persistent racial harassment -- and was targeted daily by that white student it says started the conflict at the dance. Her brother, a seventh-grader, said he was the subject of racially disparate punishment since kindergarten “sometimes for minor things such as putting his head on his desk.” The ACLU says school officials did not investigate but ignored the students’ claims.

“We hope that the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights will investigate the incidents of racial harassment and force the District to address the harm that has been caused,” the ACLU wrote, “by creating a plan that will prevent racial harassment from occurring at its school. The District’s duty is to provide a school environment where all students can safely learn and thrive, regardless of their race.”

The school district responded in its statement, “The District... does maintain a specific policy for addressing matters of pupil discrimination, and to date no complaint under this policy has been filed by the ACLU or by the family referenced in their press release.”

“The District remains committed to providing a safe environment for all students and takes any claims of discriminatory acts very seriously,” the OASD statement read.

School district officials declined to speak with WBAY on-camera and the ACLU said it had no one available to speak with us Friday.

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