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Monday, December 11, 2023

ACLU files federal discrimination complaint against Oshkosh schools

The ACLU filed a federal complaint on behalf of students who said they faced persistent racial harassment in Oshkosh Area Schools.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Wisconsin filed a racial discrimination complaint with the United States Department of Education in late April, requesting an investigation into the Oshkosh Area School District after Black middle school students were expelled.

According to the complaint, TreVon Swan, a seventh grader, and his sister, Karizmah Keys, a sixth grader, were subjected to repeated racial discrimination while attending Merrill Middle School before Swan was expelled in December 2021. The ACLU claims the district and school administrators failed to address the racial harassment or adequately investigate the events that led to the students’ expulsion.

The complaint specifically addresses an incident at a Halloween dance where a white student screamed racial slurs and splashed water on several Black students. The principal allegedly took one of the students out of the dance after the incident and summoned the authorities. Seven Black students were ultimately recommended for expulsion.

School administrators filed juvenile disorderly conduct charges against Swan, Keys, and five other students following the incident but did not discipline the white student.

Keys’s disordely conduct charge was made on the basis that she “had been present while TreVon was being dragged down the hall and after he was locked in the faculty lounge and tried to explain that the incident was racial.”

According to the ACLU, the school board official overseeing the hearing declared systemic racism was "not relevant" at Swan’s expulsion hearing.

The Oshkosh Area School District said in a statement that it is unable to comment on the complaint since it has not yet been received. However, the district confirmed the ACLU was present at Swan’s hearing. 

The school district expelled him for “endangering the property, health, and safety of others while at school, and for repeated rule violations.”

“The District has chosen to expel the Black students who are being subjected to harassment,” the ACLU said in a statement. “We hope that the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights will investigate the incidents of racial harassment and force the District to address the harm that has been caused by creating a plan that will prevent racial harassment from occurring at its school.”

Both Swan and Keys told the ACLU that racial harassment in Oshkosh schools has been consistent since kindergarten. Swan recalled being yelled at for “putting his head on his desk,” and Keys said she faced daily harassment and racial slurs from one student.

The ACLU previously appealed to the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI) but appealed to the federal level after DPI sided with Oshkosh schools.

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