Madison County, Kentucky schools to implement sweeping reforms following federal investigation into racial harassment

LEXINGTON, KY – In a groundbreaking move that will echo through classrooms and hallways, the U.S. Justice Department has reached a settlement with Madison County Schools to address the pervasive racial harassment of Black and multi-racial students that has been allowed to fester unchecked for years.

The investigation, opened under Title IV of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 in October 2021, has brought to light a disconcerting reality: Black and multi-racial students have been subjected to a hostile environment of racial slurs, derogatory comments, and intimidating behavior. An environment that has been at times reinforced by the use of Confederate flags and imagery.

The Justice Department’s investigation has exposed the school district’s failure to consistently and reasonably address this harassment. It has revealed how the district, in cases where it did respond, often fell short of its own racial harassment policies, resulting in ineffective action. This failure not only deprived the affected students of equal access to the educational opportunities offered by the district, but also led them to conclude that the district either condoned such behavior or would not take any action to alleviate their plight.

“Schools should be safe and supportive environments for all students, not places where they face racist harassment and abuse. Racial harassment inflicts grievous harm on young people and violates the Constitution’s most basic promise of equal protection,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “This agreement will create the institutional changes needed to keep Black and multi-racial students safe and to provide them with a supportive educational environment.”

United States Attorney Carlton S. Shier, IV for the Eastern District of Kentucky also commented on the settlement, emphasizing that all young people are entitled to seek their educational opportunities without facing racial harassment and abuse. He said, “With this settlement, Madison County Schools are now taking an important step consistent with those basic principles.”

As part of the agreement, Madison County Schools will retain a consultant to review and revise anti-discrimination policies and procedures. The school district is also slated to undertake significant institutional reforms. These include creating a new central office position to process complaints of race discrimination and updating its racial harassment and discipline policies for a more accurate and consistent response to complaints.

Further measures will include staff training on identifying, investigating, and responding to complaints of racial harassment and discriminatory discipline practices. The district will also keep students and parents informed on how to report harassment and discrimination. An update to the centralized, electronic reporting system is also on the cards, aimed at better tracking and managing complaints and the district’s response to them.

The district will also implement focus groups, surveys, training, and educational events to educate on identifying and preventing race discrimination, including discriminatory harassment. It plans to analyze and review discipline data and amend policies to ensure non-discriminatory enforcement of discipline policies.

Protecting the constitutional rights of public school students remains a top priority of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. This settlement is a step forward, but the journey to ensure the safe and supportive environments that our students deserve is far from over.