KEARNEY, Mo. — The Kearney School District superintendent is addressing systemic racism just days after a former student sued the district.

The student claimed he suffered years of racial harassment and bullying while attending schools in the district.

The lawsuit alleges other students were violent toward this student and also repeatedly called him the n-word. The suit says the alleged harassment happened in and out of school.

While the Kearney School District said it doesn’t comment on pending legal cases, Interim Superintendent Todd White wrote an open letter addressing the work the school district said it’s done, and what it continues to do to address harassment and discrimination.

“This work is urgent and important. The job of a community is to prepare its students to become productive members of society who are capable of reaching success in numerous ways. Anything that gets in our way of achieving this desired outcome is simply unacceptable,” White said in the letter.

White pointed out that the school district formed a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee several years ago. Students also formed “Kearney Inclusion ‘N Diversity,” or KIND, Clubs. The hope is the groups will lead to productive conversations on how to address harassment and other issues in schools.

Following a series of racist incidents in the district in 2019, additional changes were made, according to White. He said those included:

  • Changing policies and procedures to address racial bullying and harassment incidents
  • Developing an agreement of support with the Kansas City chapter of the NAACP
  • Participating in a program called School SPIRIT, which brought together a representative group of students who spent time discussing school issues that included race
  • Facilitating a “Student-Only Conversation About Race and Equity” using a local facilitator, Jamie Grayson, founder of People of All Colors Succeed (POAC)
  • Launching the “BULLDOGS Respect” campaign created by the DEI Committee
  • Coordinating our efforts with the city of Kearney and a network of local churches
  • Participating in POAC’s anti-bullying / leadership program

“The work that you have begun is noteworthy, important and incomplete. I encourage you to continue this most important work. Collectively, you make KSD a place where racism and every other form of harassment, discrimination and hate are not tolerated,” White said in the letter.

The family suing the school district said the harassment the teenager experienced forced him to transfer to another school.

After reading the letter written by Kearney’s interim superintendent, the student’s attorney, Dan Curry, said they agree with what was said.

Curry said changes do need to be made so that every student has a safe learning environment.

“My clients are pleased they’re acknowledging how important it is to end racism in the hallways,” Curry said. “They state in here that most of their students getting a good education is not good enough. It’s got to be all. “It’s got to include the African American students.”

But Curry said they have questions because the interim superintendent listed organizations and initiatives that were created to combat racism, but he said his client was a part of those organizations and was still picked on.

“My client has described it to me as hitting him in the gut,” said Curry. “Every time the N-word was used in his face, in the hallway or on social media or by his fellow classmates.” 

The district said the superintendent wrote the letter to respond partly to the lawsuit, but also because of last weekend’s racially motivated shooting in Buffalo, New York.

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