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Students at a Georgia high school file civil lawsuit claiming racial discrimination by the school and district

By Jamiel Lynch, CNN

Five students at Coosa High School in Rome, Georgia, along with their mothers, filed a federal lawsuit against the Floyd County school district claiming continued racial discrimination at the school and continued violations of their First Amendment and equal protection rights.

“The Plaintiffs, who are African-American, challenge Coosa High’s deliberate indifference to acts of racial animosity toward Black students perpetrated by White students and teachers; as well as the school’s viewpoint discrimination in its dress code and the inconsistent administration of disciplinary policies to the detriment of Black students,” the lawsuit says.

“This case is a reminder that we are still fighting in the South over just who and what we are as a region,” plaintiff attorney Artur Davis said in a statement to CNN. “Cases like this are necessary to show how far we still need to go in the South to be one community.”

A 2018-2019 Georgia schools report said the school district was 78% White and 7% Black. About 4% of students were identified as multiracial.

CNN has reached out to the school district and superintendent multiple times for comment. In a statement to the Rome News-Tribune, Superintendent Glenn White said, “Floyd County Schools looks forward to presenting the facts in court.”

In response to CNN’s request for comment, the school board members named in the lawsuit referred CNN to their attorney. CNN has not heard back from the school district or the attorney.

Lekisha Turner, whose children are among those suing, said she fears retaliation, but has no choice but to send them to that school.

“Our experience was deplorable,” Turner told CNN’s Ana Cabrera on Wednesday, adding they had complained numerous times to the school and had asked school leaders to do something about “the blatant racism that they clearly saw.”

“Some of the administrators were right in earshot of it and did nothing about it. My kids felt really, really bad, and as a mother, I felt like there was nothing else I could do with the school,” Turner said.

‘This does happen in 2022 America’

The suit alleges that school administrators have engaged in an “egregious pattern of deliberately ignoring Plaintiff’s complaints regarding repeated incidents of racial intimidation and bigotry” at the school.

It described several instances, including an alleged re-enactment of George Floyd’s death that took place in the school hallway, a student wearing a Confederate flag belt and addressing Black students as “slaves” and a White student telling Black students “we used to whip you with this” while holding a whip.

The suit further alleges that White students at the school openly use the N-word and that there have been racist remarks posted on social media and used by White teachers.

The school’s dress code permits the wearing of any Confederate flag apparel but prohibits the wearing of any and all “Black Lives Matter” apparel or related theme imagery, according to the lawsuit.

In October 2021 during Spirit Week, White students were allowed to carry a Confederate flag around the school’s campus, the suit alleges. In response, a group of students organized a protest of the school’s tolerance of the symbol, scheduled to take place in between classes and during breaks off school grounds, the suit says.

The school “forcefully acted to shut the protest down,” the lawsuit claims, saying that an announcement was made that the protest was prohibited and students caught with fliers would be disciplined.

The plaintiffs also allege that reports they have made for racial incidents at the school have gone without action from teachers and administrators.

The plaintiffs are asking for an undisclosed amount of monetary damages as well as an amendment to the school dress code to prohibit discrimination based on political or ideological viewpoints and the expungement of the plaintiffs’ disciplinary records to remove all sanctions or discipline for planning the October protest.

“This is a lawsuit where you tell them to stop discriminating against these students. Let them go to school and get their education. Racism has no place in our country and definitely has no place in our school systems,” attorney Harry Daniels told CNN.

In a separate statement, plaintiff attorney Shannon Liss-Riordan said the students and families bringing the lawsuit “deserve the protection of the Court and I am confident our lawsuit will prevail.”

“I think this shows to us all that this does happen in 2022 America,” Liss-Riordan told CNN on Wednesday.

“We’re seeking full expungement of these disciplinary records and justice for these students who endured what they should not have to endure now in America, or ever in America. We are better than this,” the attorney added.

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