Education department received 19K discrimination complaints, including claim of mocking George Floyd’s death

The Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights collected most complaints from students with disabilities.

Nearly 19,000 discrimination complaints were logged by the Office for Civil Rights of the U.S. Department of Education between October 1, 2021, and September 30, 2022, more than double the previous year.

As the New York Times reports, officials say most of the complaints from schools across the nation allege discrimination based on disability, race or sex. The complaints were collected during the COVID-19 pandemic and amid a nationwide racial reckoning following the 2020 police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

An empty classroom with a green chalkboard on the wall
(Getty Images)

In one example of racial harassment reported at an Iowa school, a white student was accused of kneeling on a Gatorade bottle and saying, “It can’t breathe,” a clear reference to the murder of Floyd. The disturbing incident allegedly occurred in the presence of a Black student, who officials said, was subjected to “racial harassment so pervasive that it constituted a racially hostile environment,” and the Ottumwa Community School District failed to protect him. 

The school district agreed to reforms that included reimbursing the parents of the student for the therapy sessions that the minor needed due to the harassment. 

Officials in the Peoria Unified School District in Arizona also agreed to reforms in September after white students harassed Asian students, drew swastikas over photos of fellow classmates, and made “Heil Hitler” salutes, according to the Times reports. 

At both school districts, the reforms included training school staff on how to respond to discrimination, as well as educating students about how to recognize and understand it.

The Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights collected most complaints from students with disabilities.

Disabled students in Arizona, for instance, complained of being repeatedly bullied by other students and disproportionately disciplined by teachers. There were also complaints filed in Colorado by advocates alleging that disabled students were segregated in dilapidated trailers. 

(Photo: Adobe Stock)

According to the Times, the Education Department is investigating four complaints against the predominantly white Carroll Independent School District in Southlake, Texas, where Black students were subjected to racist slurs and one gay student was bullied to the point of contemplating suicide. 

Catherine Lhamon, assistant secretary for civil rights, said the department would detail all complaints received in the office’s annual report available to the public in the coming months.

Meanwhile, several civil rights groups hold former President Donald Trump responsible for creating a climate of intolerance among school students and fueling political and social strife among adults and educators.

“We cannot underestimate the normalizing of intolerant behaviors,” said Liz King, senior program director of educational equity at the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, a coalition of more than 200 civil rights groups, per the Times. “And it would be impossible to separate the attacks on what children are allowed to learn from the way in which children are experiencing the school day.”

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