November 8, 2021

Former Westfield middle schooler sues district on allegations of racist bullying

The Westfield Washington School district is located north of Indianapolis in Hamilton County. - (Westfield Washington Schools/Facebook)

The Westfield Washington School district is located north of Indianapolis in Hamilton County.

(Westfield Washington Schools/Facebook)

The American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana has filed a lawsuit against the Westfield Washington School Corporation, claiming the school allowed racist bullying to occur against a Black student. The student's family is requesting unspecified damages to prevent further discrimination from happening to other Westfield students.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of a former Black Westfield middle schooler. The complaint said the female student, referred to as S.J., endured numerous accounts of verbal abuse from her classmates almost two years ago. During remote learning in spring 2020, students would also chant derogatory and racist words at S.J. while a teacher took attendance.

In a press release, S.J.’s parents, Anthony and Brandi Johnson, said they want to prevent this from happening to other students.

“We want to protect and make a change for the minority children and families in Westfield Washington School District, so that their families do not have to endure the hurt, disappointment, and safety concerns we experienced,” the couple said. “You have to speak up about any kind of discrimination in order to make a change and to protect each other.”

Administrators claimed to have filed multiple police reports, but the lawsuit said the Westfield Police Department doesn’t have those records.

In a district statement provied to WFYI on Monday, Westfield Washington Superintendent Paul Kaiser said he is aware of the lawsuit but the district had yet to be served with it. The district, he said, is a place "where all students can achieve academic and social success."

"We’ve put an emphasis on cultivating an environment where all students feel safe, seen and valued," Kaiser said. "We are committed to creating a positive and welcoming environment for every student who walks through our halls. For every one of our district families, we will continue on this journey to expand our perspectives and work together to make our school district a place where every student knows they belong and can achieve their goals."

Westfield Middle School is nearly 78 percent White, while the Black student population is only 5 percent, according to recent state data.

S.J. has since enrolled in an online school. The ACLU claims the school’s alleged compliance with the bullying excluded S.J from a safe and equitable learning environment.

Contact WFYI education reporter Elizabeth Gabriel at egabriel@wfyi.org. Follow on Twitter: @_elizabethgabs.

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