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Michigan ACLU files complaint against school district

January 27, 2019

PAW PAW, Mich. (AP) — The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan has filed a federal discrimination complaint alleging that there’s a racially hostile environment at a southwest school district that was previously criticized for its use of the Redskin name and image as a mascot.

The ACLU filed the discrimination complaint Monday with the U.S. Department of Education against Paw Paw Public Schools. A public records request found that there were numerous instances of discrimination against racial, religious and ethnic groups at the district from 2015 through 2017, said ACLU attorney Mark Fancher.

“The level of fear that appears to exist in that community among groups that have been targeted by the bigotry is such that we really felt something extraordinary needed to happen in that community,” Fancher said.

District Superintendent Sonia Lark issued a statement denying the allegations, saying that the ACLU hasn’t conducted sufficient research on the issue. She said the district has promptly and effectively addressed discrimination complaints.

“District staff and administration work tirelessly to promote diversity and to encourage cultural sensitivity,” Lark said. “The district does not tolerate unlawful discrimination or harassment.”

The ACLU’s complaint said “there are ongoing acts of harassment, discrimination, bullying, intimidation, and use of imagery and language that causes humiliation,” including multiple incidents involved racial slurs. One instance involved a teacher allegedly saying a student’s use of a swastika in a project was “artistic.”

The school district also received attention for voting in 2017 to keep the Redskin name and image as the high school’s mascot.

The ACLU is asking the Education Department to launch an investigation and that the district work to eliminate discrimination. The complaint noted that federal funds could be withheld from the district if it doesn’t cooperate.

The district hasn’t yet been notified if the complaint will be investigated, but school officials will fully cooperate, Lark said.

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