Lawsuit alleges racial harassment and discrimination at Pinckney schools
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Lawsuit alleges racial harassment and discrimination at Pinckney schools

PINCKNEY — A lawsuit alleges that Pinckney Community Schools leadership “failed to take meaningful action” to address racism against minority students.

The lawsuit was filed by Detroit-based Marko Law on Sunday, July 7, in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan. News of the lawsuit was first reported by Click on Detroit.

The civil rights lawsuit was filed by several students, alleging that “racism has been present in Pinckney Community Schools for years.”

According to the lawsuit, black students at Pinckney “were called ‘cotton pickers,’ ‘monkeys,’ ‘the N-word,’ physically assaulted, racially discriminated against, and received death threats because of the color of their skin.”

“And all the while, Pinckney Community Schools turned a blind eye and took no meaningful action to address racism once and for all,” the lawsuit reads.

Black students at PCS “have experienced emotional trauma and significant disruptions to their education,” the lawsuit alleges. It also says several students have left PCS “out of fear for their physical, personal and educational well-being.”

The plaintiffs are minors — four boys and one girl — who attended Pathfinder, a school that serves high school-age students.

The lawsuit alleges that PCS Director Rick Todd “has had personal knowledge of racism in his district for at least the past decade” and said he “has failed to take meaningful action to address the problem.”

The Daily reached out to Todd, who declined to comment on the lawsuit. Pathfinder School Principal Lori Sandula and former Navigator School Principal Janet McDole are also named as defendants.

The lawsuit alleges that PCS violated Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 “because it effectively caused, encouraged, condoned, tolerated, or failed to remediate a race-based hostile environment of which it had actual or perceived knowledge.”

The lawsuit also alleged that PCS violated the Fourteenth Amendment by stating that it “tolerated and encouraged racial intimidation, which fostered future violations.”

“The defendant’s conduct was reckless, outrageous and, upon information and belief, intentional,” the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit also said PCS violated the Elliot Larsen Civil Rights Act by “creating and failing to prevent an educational environment rife with racial violence” and engaging in repression and discrimination.

The plaintiffs seek compensatory and punitive damages, costs and attorneys’ fees, and declaratory and injunctive relief. One plaintiff requested a jury trial.

The plaintiff’s accusations

One student, named only as SC in the lawsuit, alleged that she was punished for being late to class because she was hiding from classmates who were harassing her.

Another student, identified in the lawsuit as PJH, said students addressed him as “Wakanda forever, my brother,” referring to the 2018 film “Black Panther.” PJH “witnessed white students teasing students of Indian descent by asking if they could draw a red dot on their forehead,” according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit alleges that PJH received a Snapchat from students that showed “two young African American males dancing shirtless in a simulated sex act.” PJH claims he was suspended by the district twice after fights that began with racial harassment.

A third plaintiff, named in the lawsuit as EJ, began behaving inappropriately in class after being called a racial slur, according to the lawsuit. It claims PCS issued EJ written discipline and suspensions but “did not correct the racist behavior.”

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The lawsuit alleges that a fourth plaintiff — DJG — was called the “N-word” in a note intercepted by a teacher during a lesson, but no disciplinary action was taken against him.

The fifth plaintiff, AG, attended Navigator Upper Elementary School and claimed his teacher did nothing when a classmate called him a “dumb black kid.” The lawsuit also claims AG was suspended for two days by PCS after he pushed another student in response to a racial slur, and the other student began choking AG before they were separated.

According to the lawsuit, one of the students also used several racial epithets against AG, and AG pressured him, leading to a two-day suspension.

District authorities have until July 28 to respond.

—Contact reporter Evan Sasiela at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @SalsaEvan.