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DOJ, Tennessee school reach settlement after racial harassment investigation

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A school district in eastern Tennessee has agreed to implement changes after a federal investigation found several incidents of race-based harassment, including students holding a mock “slave auction” to sell Black students to their white classmates.

The Department of Justice announced the settlement Monday after initially alerting the school district in 2023 that it would launch an investigation. It said school officials had been “deliberately indifferent to known race-based harassment in its schools, violating the equal protection rights of Black students,” according to a news release.

The investigation was prompted by a lawsuit filed by a mother of a student, identified only as “K.R.”, who reportedly faced the brunt of the harassment. That suit was settled earlier this year.

Both the lawsuit and DOJ found that K.R. experienced 12 racial harassment incidents during the 2021-22 school year. They often involved “public humiliation in the common areas of his school,” such as being handed a drawing of a Klansman riding towards a monkey and walking into a bathroom to find a white student holding a mock slave auction in which K.R. was “sold” to the highest bidder.

“No student should endure mock slave auctions or racial slurs meant to invoke a shameful period in our country’s history when Black people were treated as subhuman,” Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division said in a statement.

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