ATLANTA—The ACLU of Georgia and the law firm Troutman Pepper filed a federal lawsuit today in the Southern District of Georgia on behalf of current and former Effingham County School District (ECSD) students who, along with other Black students in ECSD, have experienced pervasive racial discrimination, violations of their freedom of speech, and a hostile educational environment in the District. In the complaint, the plaintiffs explain how their complaints about racist acts and racial discrimination fell on deaf ears for years. The actions and lack of response by the District and its officials violate the students’ First and Fourteenth Constitutional Amendments, as well as Title VI of the Civil Rights Act.
Black students and their parents in the suit allege they have been subject to heinous racial attacks, including the rampant use of derogatory language like “n****r,” “porch monkey,” and “monkey.” They have had to share spaces at school with students dressed as Adolf Hitler and have watched classmates re-enact the killing of George Floyd. They were told to silence their opinions about the discrimination and have faced consequences for sharing their viewpoints. These attacks and actions—which have been largely ignored by Defendants—have created a hostile learning environment for Plaintiffs in their schools and extracurricular activities.
The lawsuit highlights the District’s long-standing racist history, including the delay to open schools’ doors to Black students until 16 years after the Supreme Court declared segregation unconstitutional in Brown v. Board Education in 1954. The District has maintained a Confederate Rebel as the high school’s mascot, the waving of Confederate flags at sporting events, and the playing of “Dixie” at school events despite previous protests from Black students, the community, and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).
“The young people bringing this lawsuit are seeking to remedy the wrongs within the Effingham County School District, so that they and other Black students no longer have to withstand pervasive racial discrimination and silencing of their free speech in order to get an education,” said Cory Isaacson, legal director at the ACLU of Georgia. “Our clients are standing up for their right to an equitable and non-hostile learning environment, and the ACLU of Georgia is proud to support them in this fight.”
The defendants in the lawsuit are ECSD, Supt. Dr. Yancy Ford, South Effingham High School (SEHS) Principal Dr. Torian White, Effingham County High School (ECHS) Principal Amie Dickerson, and Effingham College and Career Academy (ECCA) Principal Brigid Nesmith.
The lawsuit seeks a trial by jury and requests that the Court find in favor of the plaintiffs and require ECSD to meaningfully engage with and rectify the alleged conduct.
Read the lawsuit here.