Home News State orders Burlington schools to improve ‘hostile’ racial environment

State orders Burlington schools to improve ‘hostile’ racial environment

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The state Department of Public Instruction has ordered the Burlington Area School District to repair what the agency called a “racially hostile environment.” The DPI issued an order Friday giving the district 30 days to come up with a corrective action plan to prevent racial discrimination in student discipline and “adequately redress the racially hostile environment.” The order came after a mother, Darnisha Garbade, complained to the district that her two Black students had been harassed between the years of 2016 and 2020.”It’s been a really long journey over the past 5 years,” she said at a rally Monday afternoon. “My black children were repeatedly called the ‘N-word,’ spit on, pushed down the stairs, had a tooth knocked out, unfairly disciplined, falsely accused.” She also alleged that one of her students brought a toy air gun to school in 2017 and received a one-day suspension when a white fourth-grader brought a knife to school in 2018 and got only detention.Garbade now heads the Burlington Coalition For Dismantling Racism. The DPI order said the district failed to adequately investigate the mother’s complaints, filed last March. The order also noted a student discipline report included 19 discipline incidents of racial harassment across the district between 2016 and 2020.”There’s cases like this all over Wisconsin and I’m hoping DPI’s ruling will put all Wisconsin schools on notice,” Garbade said. The district issued a statement noting one of every five students in the district is a minority.The school board in November adopted a new student anti-harassment/anti-racism policy, the statement said.The board said it would comply with the state’s order for improvements.”Equity will continue to drive our conversations. Equity must be evident in all that we do within the district,” a statement said. “We will work to harness the different voices in the community to make our schools more inclusive and welcoming to all.”Superintendent Stephen Plank declined the opportunity to answer questions from WISN 12.He instead released a video statement on the district’s Facebook page.”The Burlington Area School District would never intentionally treat Black and brown students differently based on race,” he said. “We most certainly regret leaving anyone impacted or feeling this way.”Garbade said the district has never apologized for the way she said her children were treated.”We’re talking about 5 years here, just with my family alone and there’s other families of color going through this way before I came to Burlington,” she said. “What we’re looking for is a safe learning environment for our children. We’re looking for an anti-racism policy. What we want are policies to hold those accountable who choose to partake in racist acts.””The sheer number of incidents of racial harassment across Burlington schools is deeply disturbing and shows that there is a pervasive, district-wide problem with racism going unaddressed, something that the DPI concluded in its ruling today as well,” ACLU of Wisconsin Attorney Elisabeth Lambert said. “Although the Burlington Area School District has taken small steps to promote equity and inclusion, they must do more to ensure that they address the systemic racism that is running rampant in its schools, and ensure that the school environment is not only safe, but welcoming to students of color.”

The state Department of Public Instruction has ordered the Burlington Area School District to repair what the agency called a “racially hostile environment.”

The DPI issued an order Friday giving the district 30 days to come up with a corrective action plan to prevent racial discrimination in student discipline and “adequately redress the racially hostile environment.”

The order came after a mother, Darnisha Garbade, complained to the district that her two Black students had been harassed between the years of 2016 and 2020.

“It’s been a really long journey over the past 5 years,” she said at a rally Monday afternoon. “My black children were repeatedly called the ‘N-word,’ spit on, pushed down the stairs, had a tooth knocked out, unfairly disciplined, falsely accused.”

She also alleged that one of her students brought a toy air gun to school in 2017 and received a one-day suspension when a white fourth-grader brought a knife to school in 2018 and got only detention.

Garbade now heads the Burlington Coalition For Dismantling Racism.

The DPI order said the district failed to adequately investigate the mother’s complaints, filed last March.

The order also noted a student discipline report included 19 discipline incidents of racial harassment across the district between 2016 and 2020.

“There’s cases like this all over Wisconsin and I’m hoping DPI’s ruling will put all Wisconsin schools on notice,” Garbade said.

The district issued a statement noting one of every five students in the district is a minority.

The school board in November adopted a new student anti-harassment/anti-racism policy, the statement said.

The board said it would comply with the state’s order for improvements.

“Equity will continue to drive our conversations. Equity must be evident in all that we do within the district,” a statement said. “We will work to harness the different voices in the community to make our schools more inclusive and welcoming to all.”

Superintendent Stephen Plank declined the opportunity to answer questions from WISN 12.

He instead released a video statement on the district’s Facebook page.

“The Burlington Area School District would never intentionally treat Black and brown students differently based on race,” he said. “We most certainly regret leaving anyone impacted or feeling this way.”

Garbade said the district has never apologized for the way she said her children were treated.

“We’re talking about 5 years here, just with my family alone and there’s other families of color going through this way before I came to Burlington,” she said. “What we’re looking for is a safe learning environment for our children. We’re looking for an anti-racism policy. What we want are policies to hold those accountable who choose to partake in racist acts.”

“The sheer number of incidents of racial harassment across Burlington schools is deeply disturbing and shows that there is a pervasive, district-wide problem with racism going unaddressed, something that the DPI concluded in its ruling today as well,” ACLU of Wisconsin Attorney Elisabeth Lambert said. “Although the Burlington Area School District has taken small steps to promote equity and inclusion, they must do more to ensure that they address the systemic racism that is running rampant in its schools, and ensure that the school environment is not only safe, but welcoming to students of color.”