Three black students said they continued to face daily discrimination after federal investigators warned the Davis School District it was mishandling reports of racism and needed to revise its response.
But when the boys tried to talk about their experiences, they said they faced the same old pattern of disregard. They claimed nothing had changed.
Now they are said to be getting a total of $200,000 in compensation for what they went through.
The settlement was the second the embattled district announced on Tuesday. Davis will also pay $2 million to the family of Izzy Tichenor, the 10-year-old black girl who committed suicide after being bullied at her elementary school for being black and autistic. Her case attracted national attention.
The agreements effectively end claims against the predominantly white school district north of Salt Lake City as it seeks to move past a series of lawsuits and inspections that have dogged it in recent years.
In the settlement with the three students, the district agreed to pay the amount and publicly release a copy of the apology it had made to their parents, who had filed a lawsuit on their behalf. The company also released a statement saying it had made significant changes to address underlying systemic issues.
“I want to sincerely apologize to you and especially your three children for the unwelcome experiences you have had while attending school in our county,” Davis Superintendent Dan Linford wrote in the message released Tuesday. “Thank you for bringing your children’s experiences to our attention.”
Linford was recently appointed to the managerial position and was not the superintendent at the time of the allegations. The district declined to answer questions about the settlements, and the families, as part of the “mutual resolution,” agreed to let the apology stand as a statement on the matter.
Linford’s letter continued, “Our primary goal is to ensure that students enter and enjoy a safe, productive and welcoming learning environment.” We have not achieved our goal if the student experience falls short of that standard. “
Along with the Tichenor settlement, this is the district’s third major payout for racism since 2019, when it paid $62,500 to a family to settle a lawsuit over a multiracial student who became trapped in the door of a bus and walked away dangling outside as it drove forward. His mother had described the incident as a “racist attack”.
This case was specifically mentioned by the U.S. Department of Justice when it published a widely publicized October 2021 report criticizing the Davis School District for failing to address “serious and widespread” racism.
Investigators found that district administrators had rejected hundreds of complaints by black students after they were labeled slaves, the N-word, and heard threats they would be lynched. Some employees were involved in the discrimination, the report said.
The district then agreed to an agreement to take immediate action to remedy the omissions.
With that in mind, the parents of the three black boys filed their lawsuit as of March 2022.
The first student
It began when a parent, Nicole Sieger, filed a federal lawsuit alleging that her son was discriminated against by Davis employees in the months after the DOJ report was released.
Her son, who is referred to as an SS in court documents because he is a minor, said he was sitting at a gathering in his middle school’s auditorium and was distracted by a white classmate who was sitting and talking nearby. SS said he asked his colleague to be quiet so he could hear. The classmate, SS said, responded with a slap in the face.
SS said he turned to his teacher, who was sitting nearby, to intervene. The teacher indicated that he instigated the attack by slapping the white student on the shoulder so that he would be punished, the lawsuit says.
She is said to have told the black student that he would receive an unsatisfactory grade for his behavior. And she didn’t speak to the white student, who the lawsuit says was never punished.
The incident was just one of several racist encounters Sieger said her son experienced in Davis. And the parents of two other students from the same school soon joined the lawsuit, reporting similar abuses.
The second student
Alonzo and Lisa Liddell filed the lawsuit on behalf of their son, JL, and Kimberly Olsen came forward on behalf of their son, NM. The complaint did not identify the school that was the subject of the allegations. But the staff listed as accused appear on the staff rolls at North Layton Junior High.
The parents said their black children continued to face “unbridled racial harassment.” They were called “cotton pickers” and with the N-word “monkey” and “slave”. Other students told them that “whites are better” and “You’re a slave, go back where you came from,” the lawsuit reads. The same epithets were described in the DOJ report.
However, when the racism was subsequently reported, the school management did nothing to address it, the parents claimed. They said each boy was forced to report to the same deputy principal, who they say then accused each of the black students of misconduct.
Liddell’s son, JL, said a white student repeatedly made racist comments towards him.
In February 2022, the behavior escalated into a physical assault. The white student rammed him in the hallway. JL said he backed off and told the student, “Don’t do that again!” The student said he would do whatever he wanted before walking away. JL said he confronted him a second time and asked him not to touch him again. The white student pushed him and JL responded with a slap in the face, JL said.
JL was summoned to the administration’s office and referred to as “the attacker” by an assistant director, the lawsuit states; he was suspended for three days.
A teacher intervened and told the district’s new equity board what he thought had happened. That agency reviewed the surveillance footage — which the family believes was processed — and suspended the white student for a day, according to the complaint.
The third student
NM, Kimberly Olsen’s son, had a similar experience. Beginning in eighth grade, he said the same white student repeatedly called him racial slurs, including the N-word.
He went to an administrator several times to report it, but the abuse didn’t stop, the lawsuit says.
In March 2022, the same assistant principal who allegedly called JL “the aggressor” told NM’s mother that NM would be suspended from school for referring to the white student as “B—-“. NM argued that he was defending himself, but the administrator wasn’t listening, he said.
According to the complaint, no disciplinary sanction was imposed on the white student.
All parents said the treatment of their sons was unfair and discriminatory. Each of their sons, they said, experienced lower grades and suffered from anxiety, abdominal pain and other ailments as a result of the treatment.
“Our work is not done yet”
The complaint states, “The very kind of harassment that…” [Davis] “had kept releasing uncontrollably,” they continued with their sons.
The parents said they wanted the district to comply with Justice Department requirements to combat racism in Davis, where only 1% of the 73,000 students are black.
In his Tuesday response, Superintendent Linford said the district had made significant changes to address its failings. These include: establishing an Equal Opportunity Office, appointing an Administrator to actively review and review the policy, updating the Davis Policy on Reporting Racism, and training all employees to report harassment and discrimination.
“While change will not happen overnight, it is well underway,” Linford said in his undated letter. “Our work is not done yet, but with your help we are building a legacy of positive change.”