DPI: Burlington School District has not addressed racism, orders district to take further action

DPI: Burlington School District has not addressed racism, orders district to take further action

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BURLINGTON, Wis. (CBS 58) --- The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI) ruled Friday that the Burlington Area School District has not done enough to address the ongoing racial harassment and discrimination, according to officials.

DPI has since ordered the district to submit a written plan within 30 days detailing steps it will take to prevent further discrimination in discipline, as well as address the racially hostile environment, according to a news release.

Officials say the decision by DPI came after an appeal filed by the ACLU of Wisconsin on behalf of a mother, Darnisha Garbade, whose two Black children both experienced frequent racial harassment from other students. A news release said the harassment routinely included being subjected to racial slurs, and stated one child was disciplined more harshly than white students. The discrimination complaint was filed in March 2020. 

“Families, hang in there and seek the help of social justice organizations. If there aren't any, create one like I did and stand your ground,” Garbade said. “The truth will prevail and you are not alone. We hear you, we see you and we are fighting with you and for you.” 

Garbade held a press conference Monday afternoon following the decision. She said she had both black children and white children in the district, and they were not treated the same.

“My black children were repeatedly called the “N-word,” spit on, pushed down the stairs, had a tooth knocked out, unfairly disciplined, falsely accused,” Garbade said.

According to ACLU of Wisconsin, Friday's ruling found 19 incidents documented by the district, and many other incidents that the district failed to document. Officials say the harassment was severe, pervasive and persistent. ACLU of Wisconsin said in a statement that teachers have been berated for covering Black Lives Matter and racial justice issues, as well as "die N-word die" and "down with BLM" were spelled out with wood chips at an elementary school playground. 

ACLU attorney Elisabeth Lambert said at the press conference the DPI report validated Garbade's concerns.

“These complaint procedures exist for a reason, and DPI’s ruling validates that,” Lambert said.

The Burlington Area School District (BASD) said they respect the expertise of DPI, as well as their decision.

"The Burlington Area School District would never intentionally treat Black and Brown students differently based on race. We most certainly regret leaving anyone impacted or feeling this way. We have been proactively working to reject all forms of racism, discrimination, and harassment and share in the goal to dismantle racism in Burlington," BASD said in a statement. 

ACLU of Wisconsin said the district has faced scrutiny over a growing number of racist incidents that have occurred at its school in recent years. 

“The sheer number of incidents of racial harassment across Burlington schools is deeply disturbing and shows that there is a pervasive, district-wide problem with racism going unaddressed, something that the DPI concluded in its ruling today as well,” said Attorney Elisabeth Lambert, Equal Justice Works Fellow with the ACLU of Wisconsin. “Although the Burlington Area School District has taken small steps to promote equity and inclusion, they must do more to ensure that they address the systemic racism that is running rampant in its schools, and ensure that the school environment is not only safe, but welcoming to students of color.”

BASD said they will continue to work with DPI on reporting requirements and will do everything to comply. 

"We need to rebuild the community’s trust and confidence. Our community, though diverse in thought, has a shared goal. We all want what is best for our students, the next generation of leaders. Let them witness us working together to heal our community," BASD statement said. "The Burlington Area School District continues as an excellent district with a lot to offer the Burlington community. It has been uncomfortable to realize that even as we try our best - everyday for every student – we need to do better."

The Burlington Coalition For Dismantling Racism will hold a press conference at 1 p.m. Monday, April 12 to discuss the ruling. 

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