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Three families sue Douglas County School District, alleging discrimination

Three families are suing the Douglas County School District over its response to a pattern of what is being described as racial abuse at Castle Rock Middle School and Douglas County High School.

Filed Aug. 2 in the U.S. District Court for Colorado, the complaint alleges numerous students and staff at the schools targeted four Black or biracial students with harassment, racial slurs and threats, depriving them of equal access to education.

Parents of the students filed the complaint. The complaint describes experiences of the children of Lacey Ganzy, Jon and Misty Martin, and Nadarian and Alexis Clark. It lists Douglas County School District, the school board and Castle Rock Middle School Principal John Viet as defendants.

The children are not named in the lawsuit to protect their privacy.

The complaint argues that the racial harassment of the students is a consequence of a district culture that doesn’t value educational equity, specifically alleging School Board President Mike Peterson and board members Kaylee Winegar, Becky Myers and Christy Williams contributed to that culture.

The complaint says the district violated the Civil Rights Act and the 14th Amendment by denying equal educational opportunities to the students involved.

Instead of a specified amount in the lawsuit, the families are requesting a jury trial to determine damages owed.

“Indeed, in a glaring act of callousness, the School District and Board of Education have yet to take formal action in their entity capacities, and many individual Board Members have yet to condemn these well-documented injustices,” the complaint says. “The indifference of School District leaders explains how such levels of hate and racism were permitted to fester.”

In April, Ganzy and her son reported a group chat of more than 100 Castle Rock Middle School students where some allegedly used the n-word, threatened to shoot Black people, shared racist memes and spoke about bringing back the Holocaust.

Ganzy’s daughter, who was attending Douglas County High School, also shared during an April school board meeting that she was called racial slurs regularly and was asked by a teacher to debate in favor of Jim Crow Laws during a class activity.

Superintendent Erin Kane made a statement at a May 23 meeting addressing the Ganzy family.

“Racism in any form is unacceptable at DCSD and a direct policy violation,” Kane said.

The complaint sheds further light on the racism the Ganzys experienced, as well as two other students of Castle Rock Middle School.

The complaint alleges all four students were frequently called the n-word and “cotton pickers.” The three middle school students also were compared to monkeys by their classmates numerous times. One student allegedly had a photo taken of them using the bathroom that was posted to the internet.

“Peers and teachers subjected Plaintiffs to abuse and harassment that was so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive that it deprived Plaintiffs of access to educational opportunities or benefits provided by the School District,” the complaint says.

According to the official complaint, each student reported what they were experiencing to teachers or administrators, alleging district staff either didn’t respond at all or didn’t take the reports seriously.

The students’ reports were not shared with their parents and the schools did not communicate to the parents what was happening.

The harassment reached a point where one student switched schools and two others moved to online classes.

The complaint says only one student involved in the group chat was disciplined and staff did not follow through on creating safety plans for the minority students to return to in-person learning. It also notes that the district hasn’t implemented antidiscrimination training for staff or students.

Citing the contention around the district’s equity policy and rhetoric used in the 2021 campaign, the complaint alleges Peterson, Winegar, Myers and Williams oppose educational equity for minority students and “foment hate,” which emboldened students to harass minorities.

“To this day, Majority Board Members employ rhetoric harmful to minority students, and DCSD has failed to implement antidiscrimination trainings,” the complaint says. “Black and biracial students and parents, and discussions about racism against historically marginalized communities, continue to be portrayed as a problem and dismissed, resulting in an environment ripe for racial harassment and abuse of students.”

In an interview with Colorado Community Media, Ganzy said the district’s response has been unacceptable and she hopes the complaint prompts them to take action, like defining the difference between bullying and a hate crime in district policies.

“I’m disappointed we couldn’t reach any sort of resolution before making it to the state that we’re in today,” she said. “I never received any kind of conversation with (Superintendent) Kane or anyone from the school district who said they would reach out.”

Ganzy’s family has since moved out of Castle Rock and switched school districts, but she said she wants to prevent what happened to her children from happening to others.

“I’m hoping that by getting at the one thing that makes Douglas County move at all, which is money, that maybe we’ll get some resolution for the kids behind my son, because they definitely failed him,” she said.

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