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Parents of academically advanced African-American girl sue Richland 1, citing abuse

Sep 01, 2017, 10:07:16

Parents of an African-American girl at Columbia’s Hand Middle School have filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against Richland School District 1, alleging school officials did little for two years while their academically advanced daughter was physically and verbally abused for “acting white.”

“Hand Middle School students called (the girl) racial slurs and physically assaulted her on numerous occasions,” says the lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Columbia by Alex Young, a soldier at Fort Jackson, and his wife, Toschia Moffett, a consultant.

“Although approximately 50 percent of the students at Hand Middle School identify as African American, (the girl) was one of the few African Americans in her honors and advanced classes during the 2015-2016 and 2016-17 school years,” the lawsuit says.

“Hand Middle School students called (the girl) racial slurs like ‘Oreo,’ ‘white girl,’ ‘wannabe white girl’ ... and generally maligned her for ‘acting white,’ ” the lawsuit alleges. Both boys and girls were involved in the bullying, the lawsuit says.

During those years, she also was “repeatedly pushed, shoved and tripped in hallways and other locations around Hand Middle School ... (and) suffered several notable physical assaults,” the lawsuit says.

Although the parents reported the harassment to school officials, district-level officials and school board members, little was done and the bullying continued, the lawsuit says. The parents tried numerous times to meet with Richland 1 Superintendent Craig Witherspoon, but Witherspoon told people “he was avoiding them,” the lawsuit says.

Richland 1 officials responded to a query about the lawsuit and whether students are protected against bullying this way: “It is our practice not to comment on pending litigation.”

Hand Middle School principal Robin Hardy did not respond immediately to a query about the lawsuit and whether Hand students are being protected against bullying.

The girl, whom The State is not identifying because she is a minor, is still a student at Hand.

The girl’s parents’ attorney, Christopher Bryant of Charleston, said, “This is an unfortunate situation, and the complaint speaks for itself. We just want to resolve this quickly and meaningfully so that this child can go back to being a child and that all Richland One students can learn in a safe, supportive environment.”

Hand Middle School, which has some 850 students in the sixth to eighth grades, is located in Columbia’s Shandon neighborhood.

According to the school’s Internet site, the student body at Hand is 54 percent African-American, 35 percent white and 11 percent “other.”

In February and March, the violence against the girl escalated, the lawsuit says. Students threw water in her face, beat her with a bottle and slammed her face with a backpack, chipping two teeth, the lawsuit says. She ate her lunches hiding in a girls’ toilet stall to avoid the bullies, the lawsuit says.

Many of the incidents are documented by school videos and witnesses, the lawsuit says.

The lawsuit raises a larger, cultural issue beyond the alleged racist bullying. It cites writings by black identity expert Kimberly Jade Norwood, a Washington University law school professor, who has studied how some African-American students stigmatize others of their race for doing things such as homework, going to class and performing well in school.

Judge Cameron McGowan Currie is handling the case.