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Suit naming Davis School District alleges racism against Black junior high student

By Mark Shenefelt - | Mar 23, 2022

BEN DORGER, Standard-Examiner file photo

The United States Courthouse in Salt Lake City is pictured on Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2019.

A woman filed suit Wednesday alleging that her Black son has undergone repeated racial harassment at his junior high school since the U.S. Justice Department last fall punished the district for a pattern of discrimination and harassment.

The civil rights complaint, filed in U.S. District Court in Salt Lake City, alleged, for instance, that Nicole Sieger’s son, a ninth grader, was called a “cotton picker” and was asked to give out an “N-word pass” so students could freely aim racially derogatory comments at him.

The suit did not identify which school was involved, but the three staff members named in the suit are listed on the North Layton Junior High School employee roster.

The district has been battered since September, when a two-year Justice Department investigation found “serious and widespread racial harassment” of Black and Asian-American students in district schools. In a settlement agreement with the district, the federal agency ordered a sweeping program to correct the problems.

The department’s Civil Rights Division cited persistent failures to respond to reports of race-based harassment by district staff and other students. The investigation began in 2019 and covered the period of 2015-2020.

Then, in November, 10-year-old Foxboro Elementary student Izzy Tichenor died of suicide after her mother said bullying that was ignored by school personnel. Izzy was Black and autistic. School officials later gave condolences and pledged to improve handling of bullying reports.

Sieger’s lawsuit alleges that her son, while sitting next to a white student during an assembly in December, tapped the student on a shoulder because he wasn’t following staff members’ instructions that students should settle down so the assembly could proceed. The white student slapped the Black student on the face, and a white teacher who saw the exchange allegedly approached the Black student and told him he would get an “unsatisfactory” conduct mark.

The suit said the student protested to the teacher, who said she had seen the slap but that he should not have been tapping anyone during an assembly.

The suit said a teacher asked Sieger’s son in February to go to the restroom to see why several other students had not returned. He saw those students using illegal substances and reported it to the teacher, but later he was accused of having illegal substances and a secretary searched his backpack, according to the suit.

The district does not search the backpacks of white students who see a fellow student using drugs, nor does it automatically assume that a white student supplied the drugs, the suit said.

The suit also said a school official then accused the teen of inappropriately touching a white female student. Sieger’s son said he had kissed the girl, but the official pressed him to tell “the rest of the story” and said the school had video of the incident. The suit said that after Sieger complained to the district, the district said there was no such video, according to the suit.

Sieger’s suit said her son’s grades have fallen since the incidents and he suffers from anxiety, and racial epithets still are common in the school.

The suit said the Justice Department report underscores the allegations as not being outside the norm. According to the federal investigation, district staff “targeted and assaulted students of color, ridiculed students in front of their peers, endorsed pejorative and harmful stereotypes of people of color in class, and retaliated against students of color for reporting harassment.”

The suit seeks monetary damages and a court order mandating that the district more quickly comply with the Justice Department’s requirements to stamp out racial harassment and discrimination.

Efforts to reach Chris Williams, district spokesperson, were not immediately successful. The district has not yet answered the complaint in court.

Aaron Bergman, Sieger’s attorney, said of the suit, “These are the initial pleadings. The allegations are serious and we’re going to pursue them accordingly.”

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