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Press Release

Justice Department Secures Agreement with Tennessee School District to Protect Students from Racial Harassment

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Eastern District of Tennessee
District Will Implement Significant Reforms to Address Race Discrimination

GREENEVILLE, Tenn. – The Justice Department announced today a settlement agreement with Hawkins County Schools in Tennessee to resolve its investigation into reports of race-based discrimination targeting Black students.

The department’s investigation focused on several instances of peer harassment, including a mock “slave auction” to sell Black students to their white counterparts, repeated and open use of the N-word, and a “monkey of the month” campaign to ridicule Black students. Although the district took steps to acknowledge the harassment, their response was not sufficient to protect the constitutional rights of Black students.

“No student should endure mock slave auctions or racial slurs meant to invoke a shameful period in our country’s history when Black people were treated as subhuman,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “Racial harassment undermines a student’s ability to feel safe, eliminates any hope for fostering a supportive educational environment and violates the Constitution’s most basic promise of equal protection. The Justice Department remains committed to protecting the civil rights of all students and will ensure that Hawkins County Schools takes all actions necessary to end racial discrimination in its schools.”

“To protect our children and cultivate a successful learning environment, our schools must take complaints of racial harassment and discrimination with the utmost seriousness and address them promptly and effectively,” said U.S. Attorney Francis M. Hamilton III for the Eastern District of Tennessee. “The United States Attorney’s Office commends the Hawkins County Board of Education for cooperating in the department’s investigation and working to improve its response to complaints of racial harassment and discrimination by reaching a resolution that enhances protections for both students’ constitutional rights and their dignity,” said U.S. Attorney Francis M. Hamilton III.

The department opened its investigation in March 2023 under Titles IV and VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The district fully cooperated during the investigation and readily pursued an agreement to address the department’s findings. Under the agreement, Hawkins County Schools will implement significant reforms, including:

  • Hiring an Anti-Harassment Coordinator to oversee the effective handling of race discrimination and harassment complaints;
  • Retaining a consultant to support the school district in implementing the agreement and creating a discrimination-free learning environment for all;
  • Creating a new electronic reporting portal to track and manage complaints and the district’s response to complaints;
  • Updating its racial harassment and school 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;
  • Implementing focus groups, surveys, training, and educational events on identifying and preventing race discrimination, including discriminatory harassment; and
  • Analyzing discipline data and amending policies to ensure non-discriminatory enforcement of discipline policies.

Protecting students from harassment and other discrimination is a top priority of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. Additional information about the Civil Rights Division is available on its website at, and additional information about the work of the Educational Opportunities Section is available at

Members of the public may report possible civil rights violations at



Rachelle Barnes
Public Affairs Officer
(865) 545-4137

Updated June 10, 2024

Civil Rights