HAWKINS COUNTY, Tenn. (WJHL) — A mother of a Church Hill Middle School eighth-grader filed a federal lawsuit against the Hawkins County Board of Education on Tuesday, citing that her son experienced racially motivated harassment and assault from peers, which resulted in no disciplinary actions for the alleged offenders — but instead marked up her son’s own discipline record.

In a civil summons penned by the mother’s legal counsel, Crain Law Group, the mother demands $2.5 million in compensatory damages from the school board, alleging that her son, identified only as K.R. in the documents, experienced verbal harassment as well as physical assaults from classmates on the basis of his dark skin color — all with reputedly no repercussions or actions from administrators.

White peers referred to K.R., who is Black, as “the n-word” and “monkey,” court documents obtained by News Channel 11 detail. The lawsuit documents allege events chronologically, beginning with a Sept. 8, 2021, incident that became physical — allegedly without any provocation or retaliation from K.R., according to the plaintiff.

The lawsuit calls for a six-member jury trial to hear the case that alleges Hawkins County Schools (HCS) administrators violated K.R.’s protection from discrimination based on race in educational settings, as secured in Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In addition to compensatory damages, it also demands statutory costs and attorney’s fees.

“In this case, I think we documented no fewer than 10 or 11 separate incidents over a period of time, and so we believe it fits well within that statutory framework,” the mother’s attorney, Larry Crain, told News Channel 11.

Lawsuit claims race-related harassment evolved into physical assault

The Sept. 8 incident started with a slew of name-calling and verbal and physical assault from a white classmate identified as J.S., the lawsuit claims. The student allegedly shoved his Black peer K.R. “while yelling at him: “fight me, you … monkey!”

K.R., who was “stunned” by the confrontation, did not retaliate, the lawsuit notes, and instead sat down at his desk. Later that day, J.S. allegedly yelled the “N-word” to K.R. from across the lunchroom within earshot of school staff, who are accused of doing nothing.

The race-related harassment again turned physical that afternoon, the lawsuit alleges, when the white student “stalked K.R. through the gym and out the back exit of the school building [while] K.R. was on his way to football practice. [The white student] yelled, ‘Come back here n-word’ and when K.R. turned around, J.S. slapped him in the face,” the lawsuit states.

K.R.’s mother claims a teacher separated the boys when K.R. began to defend himself, but only one of the students landed in an administrator’s office while the other boarded a bus to return home.

“[The white student] was placed on his school bus and sent home,” the lawsuit states. “K.R. was escorted to the office by Mr. Thomas and his football coach Jeremy Jones.”

As K.R. sat in the office of Assistant Principal Natasha Bice, the school administrator allegedly “demanded that K.R. tell her what he said to the white student” and “why K.R. didn’t [just] walk away.”

In what appeared as a transparent effort to shift the blame, she also demanded to know what names K.R. called the white student to prompt him to use the “N-word” or to cause him [to] come into his classroom, shove K.R. and call him racial names.

Lawsuit against the Hawkins County Board of Education

School administrators ultimately punished K.R. for the Sept. 8 incident with two days of in-school suspension and 50 points tacked onto his discipline record. J.S., the white student, did not receive any punishment, the lawsuit claims.

“The family feels like that the school has been deliberately indifferent to their concerns about what has been going on; there’s been no effective or prompt remedial action taken,” Crain told News Channel 11.

“There was also concern that when this young man would report incidents like this that he would bear the brunt of discipline but those who were aggressively harassing him would not. So there’s some disparity concerns as well in the way that the school was addressing the problem. That’s disturbing.”

Allegation: Multiple calls, no answers — until lawsuit threatened

The lawsuit claims the mother called Principal Scott Jones multiple times regarding her son’s punishment; “however, Principal Jones was either unavailable or never returned the phone calls,” the lawsuit states. “During the last phone call by [the mother] to the school office regarding the [Sept. 8] incident and the unfair punishment of her son, she advised that unless she received a callback, she and her husband were considering filing formal charges against the student who had assaulted their son. Principal Jones returned [her] call within ten minutes.”

During this phone call, the lawsuit states, Jones told the mother that the assistant principal — Bice — said there was video evidence that went against K.R.’s claims. The mother requested to view the video, which Hawkins County School system’s attorney Chris McCarty denied, the lawsuit alleges. It would not be until April 8 that administrators allowed her to watch the video during a meeting in which HCS Director Matt Hixson allegedly “stated that the school administration was ‘not going to focus on past incidents, but work hard to make sure they didn’t have any more racially motivated incidents.'”

The mother claims in the lawsuit that in March, another race-related incident led her to reach out to school administrators. After receiving the reports of the incidents, Principal Jones and Vice Principal Bice sat with K.R. and apologized for the incidents, but the lawsuit also alleges that an administrator “quickly changed the subject” by bringing up a past incident that “had never been addressed with K.R. or mentioned prior to the discussion.”

“The message that K.R. took from this meeting with Principal Jones’ ‘chat’ was that he should stop reporting race-related concerns, or he himself could face disciplinary action, regardless of whether it was warranted or not,” the lawsuit stated.

When the family did not feel as though administrators were properly responding to the incidents, the mother contacted HCS Director Matt Hixson regarding “her concerns over the race-related harassment of her son. She also shared her concern about the disparity in disciplinary action taken against her son, as contrasted with the lack of disciplinary action against the white student aggressor,” the lawsuit states.

The mother relayed another race-related incident that allegedly occurred at the school that targeted her son, and the lawsuit states that “Hixson told [K.R.’s mother] and K.R. that school administrators were made aware of the incident and that a full investigation was underway.”

The lawsuit alleges, however, that administrators did not interview the student responsible for that particular incident until nearly two months later.

As of March 28, the mother had reported six racially motivated incidents within the span of 12 school days.

Hawkins County Schools ‘vehemently’ denies allegations

Director Hixson sent News Channel 11 a statement on Thursday that confirmed the system is aware of the lawsuit but denies the allegations.

Hixson said that to protect student privacy, the system cannot discuss details regarding the situation, but administrators “vehemently deny that [the] school system tolerates racial discrimination or harassment of any kind.”

The full statement is available below.

Hawkins County Schools understands a parent has filed suit against our school system. Though the school system will not address specifics in an effort to protect student privacy, we vehemently deny that our school system tolerates racial discrimination or harassment of any kind. When such allegations are brought to our attention regarding student conduct, we take steps to investigate the same and to discipline those found responsible. Hawkins County Schools and the many educators who work within our school system strive to create an environment where all students – regardless of their race – feel safe and welcome. And we will defend ourselves in court against any claims to the contrary.

HCS Director Matt Hixson