Posted on May 27, 2008

Racism Claimed at Alabama School

AP, May 25, 2008

A south Alabama town that was the inspiration for the setting in Harper Lee’s book “To Kill a Mockingbird” is finding itself as the backdrop for a real-life legal case involving allegations of racism at school.

The parents of several black junior high school students have filed a discrimination lawsuit claiming their children are subject to racial slurs and punished more harshly than white students at Monroeville Junior High School.

The lawsuit says black students at the county’s only public junior high have been called slurs such as the “N-word,” “filthy trash” and “black monkey.” Their parents also say classes are segregated, with most black students being kept out of advanced placement and honors courses.

The action, originally filed in August, was revived this week by the American Civil Liberties Union in U.S. Southern District Court on behalf of nine students. It names the Monroe County Board of Education, Monroeville Junior High principal Lana Wilson, county superintendent Dennis Mixon, and the five-member school board.


The parents say black students who got into fights with white students were given off-campus suspensions for longer periods of time while white students were given shorter in-school suspensions. They also said black students were disciplined for minor dress code violations like untucked shirts and for violations that weren’t even in the code, such as loose or missing buttons.

The junior high school at the center of the lawsuit has 463 students from grades 6-8 and its population is 78 percent black and 22 percent white.

Allegations of racism

The lawsuit also describes an incident in which a student was being teased by white classmates who called her a “black monkey.” The student told the white teacher, who responded by saying “sit back down because you do look like a black monkey,” the suit claims.

Students whose parents complained about the treatment were targeted for harsher punishment as a result, said Catherine Kim, an attorney for the ACLU’s Racial Justice Project.


Monroe County School system attorney Mark Boardman said the lawsuit’s allegations were investigated and found to be “baseless.” A review of discipline records showed no disciplinary disparity between races, he said, and the district is seeking to have the lawsuit dismissed.

“Three other lawyers have been involved in this case and decided—after learning the facts—not to take it,” Boardman said.

Yates said her son’s self-esteem has declined since he enrolled there as a sixth grader. {snip}