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Lawsuit Accuses Duluth Edison Charter Schools of Racial Discrimination

Raleigh Academy is one of the schools mentioned in the lawsuit. Raleigh Academy is one of the schools mentioned in the lawsuit. |  Photo: WDIO-TV

Alejandra Palacios
Updated: May 16, 2019 05:09 PM

Duluth Edison Charter Schools is facing a federal lawsuit from three families who say their children faced racial discrimination from both students and staff at the school.

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One of the students formerly attended Raleigh Academy, while another currently attends Raleigh and the third currently attends North Star Academy. The civil lawsuit alleges that the three students experienced racist, unfair, hurtful, and dangerous interactions at school.

The lawsuit claims Duluth Edison Charter Schools fails to provide African-American students with a safe, healthy, and non-discriminatory learning environment. Each plaintiff said they experienced verbal harassment, bullying, and physical harm while under the school's care.

The lawsuit alleges that despite being notified of the race discrimination, Duluth Edison failed to take steps to stop the discrimination.

The lawsuit said Chrystal Gardner, the Duluth Edison Charter Schools former African-American cultural liaison, spoke to staff several times of the racial discrimination. 

The lawsuit claims African-American students organized a protest against racial injustice in May 2018. The students wore all black and walked out of the school and into the parking lot for about 25 minutes. Teachers allegedly referred to the peaceful protest as a "riot."

Bonnie Jorgenson, the head of schools for Duluth Edison, said the school cannot comment on the specific allegations, but denied discriminatory conduct and said the school will vigorously defend itself.

"Duluth Edison Charter Schools is committed to the education of every child and has strong policies and practices in place against discrimination," Jorgenson said in a prepared statement.

"There is nothing more important to Duluth Edison Charter Schools than the well-being of the students that we educate every day," she said.

The lawsuit claims the three students were called the "N word" by their Caucasian peers. The lawsuit alleges staff did not take any meaningful action to address the racial issue.

In the lawsuit, the students said they were bitten, spit at, and punched by other classmates. One of the students said a teacher grabbed him by the chin. Another student said a teacher cut a dreadlock from his head without his permission. 

"The frustrating part of this whole process for my clients and their families has been the fact that the school has largely ignored or minimized the problems that they've been facing," Rebekah Bailey, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said.

Furthermore, the lawsuit states Duluth Edison Charter Schools received a report in 2016 from the Minnesota Department of Education in connection with an equity study they conducted of the Duluth Edison Charter Schools.

The report stated that many students said racial taunting was a frequent experience, they report a presence of taunting or use of inappropriate language related to race, and staff did not recognize the taunting.

The experience was so bad for one of the students, that he became suicidal and had to transfer to a different school.

The plaintiffs said they have suffered and continue to suffer emotional trauma.

The lawsuit includes the Duluth Edison Charter Schools 2017-2018 Annual Report, which stated that of the 1399 students, only 4.1 percent were African-American. 

Bailey said the lawsuit was a measure of last resort for the parents, who said they had complained, talked to staff, and requested an internal investigation on the incidents.

The lawsuit is asking the court to issue a permanent injunction that directs Duluth Edison Charter Schools to comply with federal and state law and for at least $75,000 in compensatory damages.

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Alejandra Palacios

Copyright 2019 WDIO-TV LLC, a Hubbard Broadcasting Company. All rights reserved

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