The Justice Department today announced a settlement agreement with Madison County Schools in Kentucky to resolve its investigation into complaints of serious and widespread racial harassment of Black and multi-racial students. The department opened its investigation in October 2021 under Title IV of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
The department’s investigation uncovered numerous incidents of race-based harassment in which Black and multi-racial students were called the N-word, among other racial epithets, and subjected to other derogatory racial comments by their peers. The school district did not consistently or reasonably address the harassment, which included racial taunts and intimidation, and was at times reinforced by use of Confederate flags and imagery. When the district did respond, it often failed to follow its own racial harassment policies and its actions were ineffective in addressing the broader hostile environment. This inaction deprived Black and multi-racial students of equal access to the district’s educational opportunities and led them to conclude that the district either condoned the behavior or would not take any action to help them.
“No student should be subject to racial harassment, including racist taunts with the Confederate flag that are clearly intended to surface some of the harshest and most brutal periods of our country’s history. Racial harassment inflicts grievous harm on young people and violates the Constitution’s most basic promise of equal protection,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “This agreement will create the institutional changes needed to keep Black and multi-racial students safe and to provide them with a supportive educational environment. We look forward to Madison County Schools demonstrating to its students and school community that it will no longer tolerate racial discrimination in its schools.”
“The principles underpinning this investigation and settlement are straightforward,” said U.S. Attorney Carlton S. Shier IV for the Eastern District of Kentucky. “All young people are entitled to seek their educational opportunities without facing racial harassment and abuse, and schools simply must adequately protect those entrusted to their care and instruction from that offensive, harmful behavior. With this settlement, Madison County Schools are now taking an important step consistent with those basic principles.”
The department’s investigation also raised concerns about racially disproportionate discipline for Black students at some district schools and inadequate systems for recordkeeping and analysis of discipline data. Under the agreement, Madison County Schools will undertake significant institutional reforms, including:
- Retaining a consultant to review and revise anti-discrimination policies and procedures and support the school district in implementing the agreement;
- Creating three new central office positions to oversee effective handling of complaints of race discrimination;
- Updating its racial harassment and discipline policies to more accurately track and consistently respond to complaints of race-based harassment;
- Training staff on how to identify, investigate and respond to complaints of racial harassment and discriminatory discipline practices;
- Informing students and parents of how to report harassment and discrimination;
- Updating its centralized, electronic reporting system to track and manage complaints and the district’s response to complaints;
- Implementing focus groups, surveys, training and educational events on identifying and preventing race discrimination, including discriminatory harassment; and
- Analyzing and reviewing discipline data and amend policies to ensure non-discriminatory enforcement of discipline policies.
Protecting public school students from harassment and other discrimination is a top priority of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. In March 2023, for example, the division secured a settlement to address harassment based on students’ race, sex, sexual orientation and sex stereotypes in the Twin Valley School District in Vermont. In October 2021, the division reached a settlement with the Davis School District in Utah to remedy harassment of Black and Asian American students. Additional information about the Civil Rights Division is available on its website at www.justice.gov/crt, and additional information about the work of the Educational Opportunities Section is available at www.justice.gov/crt/educational-opportunities-section.
Members of the public may report possible civil rights violations at www.civilrights.justice.gov/.