School administrators ignored multiple reports of severe harassment, discrimination, and abuse

Contact: Lia Ernst, [email protected], 223-6304 x118; James Lyall, [email protected], 223-6304 x115

Montpelier, Vt. – The ACLU of Vermont filed a complaint today with the Vermont Human Rights Commission (HRC) on behalf of “C.B.,” a former Vermont student who was subjected to racially motivated bullying and harassment—including derogatory racial slurs, references to white supremacy, and threats of physical violence—by classmates at Twin Valley Middle High School during the 2020-2021 school year.

Despite receiving multiple reports about this abuse—from Twin Valley teachers and C.B.’s mother—school administrators took no meaningful action. At the time, C.B. was a tenth-grade student, new to Twin Valley, and the only Black student in the school.

ACLU of Vermont Legal Director Lia Ernst: “No student should ever be subjected to bullying, harassment, or threats of violence. For school administrators to ignore multiple, credible reports of racist abuse, as they did in this case, is completely inexcusable.”

Among the many racist incidents reported to school officials, in one instance a group of male students repeatedly accosted C.B. in the hallway, raising the Nazi salute and yelling the “N-word” at her. In another incident, a male student lunged at C.B. threateningly. After school administrators failed to respond, the racist harassment and bullying of C.B. escalated. In the spring of 2021, a Snapchat video captured a group of male students at the school yelling the “N-word” and “Burn, Burn, Burn!” and that they “hope [C.B.] burns in hell.” Still, Twin Valley officials took no meaningful action to protect C.B.

Fearing for her safety, C.B. dropped out of school sports, her grades declined, and she developed anxiety and depression. Ultimately, C.B. was forced to transfer schools, just weeks before the school year ended.

NAACP Windham County Branch President Steffen Gillom: The racism this student experienced is unfortunately a daily reality for students across the state, and one that is still not being talked about or addressed the way it needs to be. Educators and administrators need to support students of color, and that starts with paying attention, listening, and responding appropriately when they are harmed. That didn’t happen in this case.” 

Other publicized examples of racist incidents in Vermont classrooms and at sporting events have drawn attention in recent months, though advocates say the vast majority are never made public. Over the past two decades, multiple reports have found racism is pervasive in Vermont schools and needs to be addressed.

ACLU of Vermont Executive Director James Lyall: “Our client was driven from her school after the people she turned to for help did nothing to support her and further emboldened her abusers. Racist harassment and bullying remain a common experience for students of color in Vermont, and the state has a responsibility to do much more to prevent incidents like these from recurring day after day and year after year.” 

Vermont has a Harassment, Hazing, and Bullying Prevention Advisory Council, and Vermont state law requires schools to have harassment, hazing, and bullying prevention policies in place, but the law has no enforcement mechanism and provides no recourse when schools fail to implement those policies or respond appropriately to racist incidents.

Cooperating Attorney Tamara Freilich: “Every student has a right to an education free from discrimination and abuse, and the law is clear: when faced with incidents like these, school officials must take immediate and decisive action. Twin Valley officials did not.”

The complaint alleges, among other things, that by failing to address severe and known racial harassment, Twin Valley unlawfully deprived C.B. of her right to a school environment free of discrimination.

C.B is represented by the ACLU of Vermont and Tamara Freilich of Hausfeld LLP.

A copy of the complaint is available here.