HAWKINS COUNTY, Tenn. (WJHL) – In documents filed with the U.S. District Courthouse located in Greeneville, Tennessee, Hawkins County Board of Education (BOE) officials confirmed that several racially-motivated bullying incidents did occur within the system during 2021.
The filing was part of ongoing litigation between the system and the mother of a child who attended Church Hill Middle School (CHMS).
The mother alleged in her lawsuit that the system “tolerated, condoned, and were deliberately indifferent to the pattern of racial harassment” within the school based on several incidents between her son – identified only as “K.R.” – and other students.
In its response to the lawsuit, the school board denied those allegations, saying that it had “appropriate policies and procedures in place to discourage student on student racial harassment or discrimination.” In addition, the BOE claims that after the concerns were brought up, the school system worked with STARS of Nashville to address problems with students, met with a representative from the NAACP to create a plan for combatting racial harassment and put other strategies in place at CHMS.
“K.R.”, who the lawsuit describes as “dark complected, and of mixed African-American and Caucasian
race”, was a student at CHMS and was one of less than five students identified as African-American in the school at the time, which the BOE agreed was accurate in its response.
At the center of the lawsuit is a fight on September 8, 2021 between “K.R.” and “J.S.”, a white student that the mother alleges called her son a “monkey” and other racial slurs prior to the exchange. In both accounts of the incident, “J.S.” allegedly slapped “K.R.” before the two began fighting.
In the suit, it’s alleged that the white student received no punishment while “K.R.” received two days of in-school suspension and fifty points on his disciplinary record. The Hawkins County BOE stated in its response that “J.S.” actually received the same punishment as “K.R.”
The filings also detail several other incidents, which the mother alleges were ignored by administration officials.
In March 2022, the mother alleged that a drawing of a Ku Klux Klan member holding a torch and noose with the words “Monkey Island” was circulated throughout the cafeteria by students, and the school system replied that while they could not confirm the exact contents of the drawing, they could state that a drawing was passed that contained images that could be seen as “racially derogatory.”
In addition, the school system claims that there was video of the cafeteria that day showing “K.R.” being handed a drawing, before he turned it into a paper airplane and threw it toward other students. The system reported that he showed no “emotional response” and also was seen speaking with a faculty member shortly afterward but did not report the drawing.
As a result of the incident, two students received a single day of in-school suspension and 75 points on their disciplinary records alongside meetings with their parents, the BOE claims.
According to the lawsuit, several students also allegedly recorded a video that showed five white students chasing “K.R.” with a stuffed toy monkey with the caption “Monkey Chasing Monkey” attached. In their response, Hawkins County BOE stated that an investigation into the event was completed but did not report their findings or actions in the document. The system did confirm an incident involving a stuffed monkey did occur, but it was not reported to school officials.
Another student called “P.S.” allegedly began promoting a “Monkey of the Month” campaign on March 15, 2022, which the lawsuit said was a competition to determine which student “acted the most n—-r” throughout the month. Board officials stated that while they could not confirm the exact details of the allegations, they did investigate and discipline a student for the campaign.
A student was also disciplined in connection to an “auction” held in the boys bathroom one day after the campaign incident, where K.R.’s mother said the same “P.S.” pretended to sell “K.R.” to the highest bidder.
The school system also confirmed that three swastikas were painted on the wall of the boys’ bathroom on March 31 and that a child had been disciplined in connection to the event.
An investigation was launched into another incident where a student allegedly referred to a Black student with special needs as a “r——d n—-r,” but the school system said no students had been disciplined as the results were “inconclusive.”
At the end of the lawsuit, “K.R.’s” mother alleges that the system violated its own discrimination and harassment policies by failing to discipline students, and the system violated “K.R.”‘s civil rights by failing to address harassment in his educational environment.
The Hawkins County Board of Education requested the lawsuit be dismissed or alternatively that the process continues to a jury trial.