There are more than 73,000 students across nearly 100 schools in the Davis School District, and a new report from the United States Department of Justice finds “persistent failures to respond to reports of race-based harassment of Black and Asian-American students by district staff and other students.” In a settlement with the DOJ, the school district will comply with a sweeping, five-year improvement plan. For one family, that change comes too late.
“He got called a monkey.” Crista Stoney told ABC4 that her 16-year-old twins started facing racial harassment in junior high. She explained that her son, Gabe, faced the worst of it.
When her kids were in 7th grade Stoney recounted, “The administrator called and said, ‘You know, Gabe got in trouble because he called somebody the b-word in P.E.” Stoney stated that her son was reacting to a student who called him by the racial slur mentioned previously. Although she agrees that her son should have been in trouble for swearing, she said the other student didn’t get in any trouble. She told ABC4 that the administrator who called to give her the news acted as though she couldn’t understand why “monkey” would be an offensive term to describe Stoney’s biracial son. Stoney added, “And then,” she said through a sigh, “Things just snowballed, and there are just so many examples.”
According to the DOJ’s report which two years in the making, the Department of Justice reviewed more than 200 similiar reports spanning from 2015 to 2020 across dozens of schools in the Davis School District.
Documents from the investigation reveal the district was “deliberately indifferent to the racially hostile climate in many of its schools.”
“It’s not fun to read,” Davis School District Director of Communications Chris Williams told ABC4 Friday. “As we read it we think, ‘It’s not us.’ But in reality, it is us, and we have some major work to do.” Williams added that the district agrees with the findings in the report.
The investigation found hundreds of examples of student-on-student harassment. Some of these include: white students calling their black peers the n-word, telling them their skin looks dirty, or that their skin looked like feces. Some of these instances happening in grades as low as kindergarten.
There are also reports of students harassing their Asian-American classmates. This also included name-calling. The report says some examples include: calling students “yellow”, “squinty”, or telling them to “go back to China.”
The report also outlines staff-on-student harassment. This included, but is not limited to: targeting and assaulting students of color, ridiculing students in front of their peers, endorsing harmful stereotypes of people of color in class, and retaliating against students of color for reporting harassment.
In all cases, the report indicates the district took little to no action when students or parents made formal complaints.
“This is a system-wide problem,” explained Chris Williams. “And so, there is not necessarily an individual who would be fired and then resolve everything. We have a lot of work to do.” Williams told ABC4 there was one particular incident that initially caught the DOJ’s attention. He said a few years ago, a bus driver closed the doors on a male student as he was exiting the vehicle. Williams said the doors caught the student’s backpack and the bus driver drove around 100 feet before coming to a stop. Williams said that luckily, the student was okay. However, in this instance, the district did fire the bus driver.
The report also states the district refused Black students the right to form student groups. It says many of these proposed groups were similar in nature to other student organizations that already exist across the school district. This is something Crista Stoney saw happen to her children. It is part of the reason school has been so hard for her twins. She added: “This isn’t just about being bullied, this is about rules not applying to everybody bases on someone’s color of skin.”
Not allowing Black students these same opportunities, the report states, violates students’ equal protection rights under the 14th Amendment.
“Life is difficult,” Crista Stoney told ABC4 during a phone interview. “These kids have enough on their plate and having to worry about being judged by their administration on top of it, it’s going to be something that they have to carry for the rest of their life.”
To help prevent this from happening to others, the district says it will now work with the Department of Justice for the next five years to implement specific changes. Some of these changes, as outlined by the DOJ, include: “create a new department to handle complaints of race discrimination; create a centralized, electronic reporting system to track and manage complaints and davis’s response to complaints; analyze and review discipline data and amend policies to ensure non-discriminatory enforcement of discipline policies.”
For the Stoney kids, their mom says these changes come just a little too late. “I now have to live with the fact that I allowed them to drop out of school because I’m putting their mental health first, before a piece of paper,” she stated. “And all I can do is pray that we made the right choice and that the GED will work out for them.”
“We would like to apologize to any student who has felt coming into school that it is not a place that they want to be because of the way they’ve been treated,” Chris Williams stated. Shortly after that, he told ABC4 that the school district’s administrators are thankful for the Department of Justice, the investigation, and the tools they are being given to change the culture at the district.