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ACLU Accuses Michigan’s Paw Paw Schools of Racial Discrimination

— January 31, 2019

The Paw Paw School District is being sued by the ACLU and U.S. Department of Education over allegations of racial discrimination.

According to a lawsuit recently filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Paw Paw Public Schools in Southwest Michigan is home to a “racially hostile educational environment…that hurts students of color.” The discrimination was discovered when a Freedom of Information request uncovered cases of what the ACLU thinks to be “hostile and discriminatory behavior.” As a result, the ACLU, together with the U.S. Department of Education, filed a lawsuit on January 21, 2019 against the school district and is calling for a federal investigation into the matter.

ACLU logo
ACLU logo; image courtesy of Tobias Frere-Jones via Wikimedia Commons,

What kind of discrimination did the investigation uncover, though? Well, according to the suit, there have been “numerous examples of racist behavior.” For example, in one incident, “some student…told others to go back to Mexico and go back to your country now and pick blueberries.” In another incident, “students affixed a student’s science project with a swastika and a small Hitler figurine,” according to the ACLU’s complaint. Another incident involved a student pushing another classmate and calling him the N-word.

The complaint further notes that other allegations include “ongoing acts of harassment, discrimination, bullying, intimidation, and the use of imagery and language that causes humiliation.”

When commenting on the discrimination, Mark Fancher, an ACLU attorney, said:

“The level of fear that appears to exist in that community among groups that have been targeted by the bigotry is such that we really felt something extraordinary needed to happen in that community.”

How has the school district responded to the ACLU’s complaint? For starters, so far the District Superintendent Sonia Lark has denied the allegations. In a statement, Lark said:

“District staff and administration work tirelessly to promote diversity and to encourage cultural sensitivity. The district does not tolerate unlawful discrimination or harassment.”

It remains to be clear whether an investigation will be launched, though Lark did comment that district officials will cooperate with federal authorities should the need arise.

Many people know of the Paw Paw school district because of its decision to keep the school’s ‘Redskin’ mascot. In 2017, the school district “voted to keep the Redskin name and image as the high school’s mascot after a heated debate within the community.” The decision to keep the mascot was agreed upon even though “dozens of American Indians from the region” attended meetings for months “declaring they object to the continued use by the school district to use the R-word and image, which they maintained is racist, offensive and does not honor American Indians.


Michigan’s Paw Paw Public Schools accused of racial discrimination by ACLU


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