Skip to main content

Administrators of a Missouri school district that is the subject of a federal civil rights investigation failed to protect a black teenager from repeated racial taunts that culminated in his threat of lynching, lawsuit alleges .

The lawsuit filed this month in state court called what happened ‘outrageous’ and sought unspecified damages against the Kearney School District, which has 3,500 students, just north of Kansas City. The situation got so bad that the teenager, identified as KW, called his parents in tears, saying white students were trying to ‘incite violence against him’ and he ‘couldn’t take it anymore’ . The teenager’s parents took him out of school.

The district said in a statement that it is not responding to pending litigation, but is committed to “fully ensuring that every student can learn in an environment free from discrimination in any form.”

Online records from the U.S. Department of Education show there are two open racial harassment investigations involving the district. The department’s Civil Rights Office does not discuss details of its ongoing investigations. Dozens of other districts across the country are also being investigated, records show.

The lawsuit alleges trouble arose during the 2018-19 and 2019-20 school year when the student attended Kearney High School. The suit indicates that less than 2% of its students are black and 92% are white.

When KW joined the swim team, white swimmers told him he had to “shave his hair short and dye it blonde,” the suit said. The student’s sister, who according to the suit had also been tormented when she was in middle school, reported what had happened to the coach.

In one instance, she went to a teacher and principal to report that she had been called a racial slur in class and was told the situation would be dealt with at a ‘later date’ because the student had a football game and that his father was a coach, the suit said.

Another time, a white high school classmate took a picture of KW and superimposed a racial slur on it. The situation has been reported to the administrators.

In January 2019, two white high school students from Kearney began sending KW photos of themselves posing with a Confederate flag, with messages such as “Heritage but mostly hate brotha.” The teen’s mother told administrators.

The lawsuit said one of KW’s stalkers was a girl, who told him he could ‘do nothing’ about the racist comments she made on social media because if he tried, all white people of the city would beat him. An algebra teacher who overheard the conversation escorted KW to the office, where the principal told him to ignore the girl because she was poorer than him, the suit said.

The situation only got worse, with white students tormenting him with monkey sounds, the suit said.

KW also received anonymous messages condemning him for the way he treated the white girl. A message read: “I hope I see your black ass in the tree. Alabama wind chime style. The messages to KW continued: “I hope you and your family of monkeys get jumped by all the white people in Kearney.”

The lawsuit described the harassment as ‘sometimes terrifying’ and said the district ‘tacitly condoned and condoned’ what happened because it was slow to act and then only took ‘ineffective corrective action’. .

Family attorney Dan Curry said in a statement that KW had moved to another district, where he “thrivened and graduated.”

“But,” Curry added, “no child should have to experience sustained racial harassment at school, and it affected my client immediately and viscerally.”