KANSAS CITY, Mo. – An investigation at Park Hill School District following students’ racist petition to “bring back slavery” has turned into a lawsuit.
Parents and their lawyers filed a federal lawsuit Friday. They claim the district punished the students too harshly.
One student was expelled, three others were suspended for the remainder of the school year.
“It was kind of decided really quickly. In order to make the Black Panthers stop showing up at the board meetings, to cause the parents to be quiet, we just kick — these kids are gone,” said Dr. Nicole Price, CEO of Lively Paradox.
“Think about their own children, think about themselves when they were 14, 15. Imagine being kicked out of school your entire freshmen year. Imagine how that could change the trajectory of your own life.”
Price works as a diversity and inclusion consultant for area school districts and said she has spent significant time with the four students involved in this incident.
According to the lawsuit, the students are described as having various racial and ethnic backgrounds. One is a biracial student who is Black and Brazilian; two white students and another biracial student who is white and Asian were also punished. A fifth student, who is Black, was also involved, but not disciplined.
“The racial identity of the students is kind of across the spectrum. When you talk to all four of the kids, the extent of their experience when it comes to racial terror in the United States was Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks assignment during Black History Month once,” Price said.
According to the lawsuit, this all started on a bus to a football game and a conversation between two students, one Black and one biracial.
The students, both football players, believed they were “joking” about slavery and needing a job. One of the students typed a three-word “petition” onto change.org stating, “start slavery again.”
Three other students, also football players who were suspended, commented, “I love slavery,” “I hate blacks,” and “I want a slave,” the lawsuit says.
From there, the petition gained traction online with other parents, teachers and students outraged, resulting in public outcry not just locally but nationally.
The Park Hill School District released the following statement to FOX4 in regard to the lawsuit:
“As this lawsuit describes, we took prompt, decisive action to enforce our policies prohibiting discrimination, harassment, and uncivil behavior. The suit shares that we expelled one student and suspended three others for 180 days. We will be able to share further details when we respond to this lawsuit in court.”
But Price said the punishment doesn’t match the crime and the district should have given more attention to educating the students about why what they did was wrong.
“What’s more in line with how you would handle an event like this, would maybe be a 10-day suspension and some restorative justice practices like, ‘Hey, you all need to study the history of race and racism in the country, present a presentation before kids and families, apologize,” Price said. “A 170-day suspension is outside the realm from my professional expertise actually solves the root cause of the problem.”
The lawsuit claims the students’ First Amendment rights were violated and also seeks undisclosed punitive damages.
The lawsuit also aims to reinstate the students and clear their school records of this incident.
Price said Missouri guidelines indicate that expulsions and long-term suspensions like this are reserved for two things: drug possession, usually with the intent to sell, and weapon charges.
“When you allow superintendents and board members to weasel out of that guideline, it’s a very slippery slope you do not want to start your way down,” Price said. “You cannot solve these issues by kicking people out.”