ACLU alleges racial discrimination in Alabama district

May 22, 2008
Lawsuit says African-American students are mistreated

May 22, 2008

Monroeville, Ala.--The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Alabama have filed a complaint in a class-action lawsuit charging Monroe County school officials with subjecting African American students at Monroeville Junior High School to the widespread use of racial epithets and slurs, racially-motivated discipline, and racially segregated classrooms, practices that deny African American students their constitutional right to equal educational opportunities.

“Students at Monroeville Junior High are systematically singled out by teachers and administrators for punishment and forced to endure hostile and discriminatory treatment simply because of their race,” said Catherine Kim, staff attorney with the ACLU Racial Justice Project. “Such behavior is a vestige of a tragic past and is simply unacceptable in any contemporary American school setting.”

The complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Alabama on behalf of nine parents of Monroeville Junior High School (MJHS) students, names as defendants the members of the Monroe County Board of Education, the superintendent of the Monroe County School District and the principal of MJHS. The ACLU and ACLU of Alabama ask the court to certify as a class all African American students who attended MJHS last year, who attend currently, and who will attend the school in the future, as well as their parents and guardians.

Some of the most egregious allegations in the lawsuit document the use of racial epithets and slurs made by teachers and school officials toward African American students.

African American children are routinely suspended for multiple days at a time for not having their shirts tucked in properly, for not wearing a belt, for wearing the wrong kind of belt, for wearing the wrong color undershirt, or simply because a school official does not like the way they are dressed. Caucasian children who commit these same alleged infractions go unpunished. African American children are routinely subject to corporal punishment for infractions as minor as running in the hallways or talking in class. According to parents, white children are virtually never subject to corporal punishment.

“All students have a constitutional right to an educational environment free from racial discrimination,” said Allison Neal, staff attorney with the ACLU of Alabama. “The kind of racially charged environment that exists at MJHS and the discriminatory policies and practices of school officials rob African American students of that right. Not only is that immoral, it is illegal.”

The complaint further alleges that school officials retaliate against parents who object to the racially discriminatory treatment of their children. Children whose parents complain are singled out for more punishment, and parents who express their concerns about the use of discipline on their child are banned from the school grounds and threatened with arrest.

Even worse, when these same parents seek assistance from the district’s Board of Education, the school board refuses to permit these parents from airing their complaints. The Board of Education prohibits any public speaking related to racial discrimination at its board meetings, a denial of parents’ free speech rights.

“Unfortunately, the school district’s utter lack of accountability only serves to deepen the problems,” said Kim. “Parents are denied any means by which they can enforce their children’s rights to equal educational opportunity in schools.”

According to numerous parents of African American students, racially discriminatory practices at MJHS have resulted in their children no longer wanting to go to school and have forced them to lose dozens of days of classroom instruction per year because of discriminatory suspensions. Students who once were honor students are now failing multiple classes and many are prohibited from extracurricular activities as a result.

“My son has attended MJHS for nearly three years and during that time his interest in school has declined and his grades have dropped significantly as a result of the racism he is forced to endure every single day,” said Tangelia Yates, one of the lawsuit’s nine named plaintiffs and whose son was once told by a teacher that a pair of pants he had made for a class assignment looked “like something a slave would wear,” according to the lawsuit. “Every child in this country is supposed to have an equal opportunity to succeed, but that can’t happen when children are forced to endure treatment like that which they receive at MJHS.”

A full copy of the ACLU’s complaint can be found online at:

Additional information about the ACLU Racial Justice Project can be found online at:

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