Tenn. middle school student subjected to ‘slave auction,’ noose and Klan images, lawsuit alleges 

Erika Qualls reportedly documented 15 racist incidents her son has experienced at Church Hill Middle School this academic year.

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A Tennessee family is suing a local school board after a middle schooler was allegedly subjected to a barrage of racial epithets, shown images of Ku Klux Klan members holding torches and nooses — and was even taunted in a “slave auction” staged by other students. 

Erika Qualls has filed the lawsuit on behalf of her son and alleges that despite repeated attempts to remedy his bullying at Church Hill Middle School, located about 85 miles northeast of Knoxville, she was dismissed. Qualls brought her concerns to the administration and says she was regularly rebuffed, and her eighth-grade son was blamed for the behavior, according to a report from The Charlotte Observer. 

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Erika Qualls, the middle schooler’s mother, through their attorney, told McClatchy News her son is experiencing depression and anxiety over the encounters, which include being called a “monkey,” and being slapped. (Photo by George Frey/Getty Images)

The lawsuit was filed last Tuesday, May 24, against Hawkins County Schools, which oversees Church Hill Middle School, where the alleged incidents took place.

In a statement, its director of schools, Matt Hixson, told The Observer, “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.”

However, the middle schooler’s mother, through their attorney Larry Crain, told McClatchy News her boy is experiencing depression and anxiety over the encounters, which include being called a “monkey,” and being slapped. In one incident, five white students confronted him in a bathroom, where they recorded a video of him being chased with a stuffed monkey. The clip was reportedly shared on Snapchat with the caption, “Monkey chases monkey,” the lawsuit claims.

According to The Observer, approximately 6.1% of the student body at Church Hill Middle School is made up of minority students, and about 1.3% are Black, per U.S. News and World Report.

Qualls, who reportedly documented about 15 racist incidents that her child experienced at Church Hill Middle School during the 2021-2022 academic school year, detailed several incidents where she reported the behavior to Hawkins County school district staff, only to be told they were under investigation.

She is now demanding that the campus be prohibited from further violating her son’s civil rights under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, which prevents discrimination based on race, and is demanding $2.5 million in compensatory damages. 

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