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ACLU files appeal to Wisconsin DPI in case involving Chippewa Falls schools

Published: Oct. 28, 2021 at 5:47 PM CDT
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CHIPPEWA FALLS, Wis. (WEAU) - The Wisconsin chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union has filed an appeal to the state’s Department of Public Instruction (DPI) claiming the Chippewa Falls Area Unified School District (CFAUSD) didn’t do enough to a student’s claims of racism against her.

“Under our state law, the process for raising racial discrimination concerns like this involves first filing a complaint with the school district itself and the district is supposed to conduct its own investigation,” said Elisabeth Lambert, the ACLU attorney representing the student and her family.

She said the district completed its investigation Oct. 22. Though it found the student had been racially harassed, Lambert and her clients are not satisfied with the district’s response.

“She has been called ‘burnt hot pocket,’ she’s been called ‘burnt candy-cane,’ she’s been called ‘big black b-word’ and she’s notified school staff of this many times and it persisted,” Lambert said.

The district said it’s response was adequate, which Lambert disputes.

She said the next step is to appeal to the DPI.

The ACLU is also representing a group of former CFAUSD students called “Cultivative Coalition.” They also filed complaints against the district claiming various forms of harassment took place at school.

In that case, the district found no evidence of harassment against those students.

Lambert said the ACLU is also appealing that case to the DPI. She hopes to combine the two cases.

She added she wants the DPI to require district leaders take swifter actions against those who commit acts of discrimination. She also wants the DPI to require all CFAUSD students and staff undergo sensitivity training.

“The real core concern is that there’s this problematic culture amongst the students and the district is not doing what it needs to do to end it and protect students from those kinds of experiences,” Lambert said.

She said her student in the racial harassment case is currently an eighth grader. She said incidents happened during the past two school years. The student no longer attends a CFAUSD school.

In response to the appeal, the district release a statement:

“The District is committed to providing its diverse student population with the best possible education. We have made it a priority to implement and enforce policies to address pupil discrimination, and to be inclusive throughout our process of developing those policies. We’ve also built an entire program that is specifically dedicated to supporting our diverse student body, and to educating our students about the rights and responsibilities that all students share to prevent and address discrimination. We aspire to provide an educational environment that is not only free of discrimination, but is welcoming to all.

The District recently implemented an electronic reporting system for parents, students, and employees to submit concerns regarding bullying, harassment, or discrimination. The District also implemented Speak Up Speak Out Wisconsin, which is a platform for students, parents, employees, and community members to submit school safety concerns.

Investigating and resolving discrimination complaints such as the complaint that was filed by the ACLU is a significant part of what we do to provide for an appropriate educational environment. The District is committed to conducting thorough investigations in accordance with applicable policy and state and federal law, as well as implementing supportive and remedial measures.”

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