Gingras, Thomsen & Wachs partners Mark Thomsen and Paul Kinne, along with GTW attorney Kimberly Sweatt and referring attorney Amy Bogost, have reached an $862,500 settlement with the Baraboo School District (BSD) on behalf of client Dasia Banks. The civil rights lawsuit, filed in January 2020, arose from the school district’s deliberate indifference and failure to respond to multiple instances of racial harassment and discrimination aimed at Banks, as well as reported student-on-student sexual assaults on school premises.
The GTW team, on behalf of Banks, argued that BSD’s actions violated Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
The original complaint stated that a pattern of racial harassment aimed at Banks began as early as first grade and continued into her freshman year of high school. The Banks family moved away twice because of the harassment, but family circumstances brought them back to the Baraboo School District both times.
When confronted with evidence of harassment and discrimination, the school district repeatedly denied any systemic issues and instead insinuated that Banks was the problem.
Specific evidence of the harassment and discrimination included use of racially insensitive language, threatening letters, lack of punishment for wearing clothing featuring the Confederate flag and even physical assault.
In addition, several instances of groping and sexual assault were reported to various staff members, with no actions taken to stop them. BSD did nothing to warn students or parents regarding predatory patterns, therefore making Banks more vulnerable to ongoing attacks.
The Baraboo School District hired an equity expert, Dr. Gorski, to examine BSD’s conduct after Banks was forced to leave the district in May 2018 to escape the recurring harassment and discrimination. Dr. John B. Diamond, Kellner Distinguished Chair in Urban Education in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, elaborated on Gorski’s findings in his report and deposition testimony.
Both reports corroborated the experiences that Dasia Banks was having. In particular, focus group students talked about an environment where students are not held to account. A majority of participants felt that diversity efforts in the district were primarily cosmetic. The general sense was a lack of accountability for student-on-student bullying and discrimination, as well as a lack of accountability for adults who contribute to students’ feeling of alienation.
Focus group students also discussed a pervasive rape culture and felt that reporting sexual assault was not going to help them. Gorski’s report explicitly stated, “Due to a combination of many of the previously mentioned concerns, most students of color with whom we talked do not feel comfortable asking most white staff or in some cases any white staff in their school for help when they need help, which threatens their academic progress.”
This historic $862,500 settlement is one of the largest in Wisconsin for a K-12 lawsuit involving Title VI and Title IX, the two federal laws protecting students from racial and sexual harassment and discrimination.
“What is very clear is that these issues are arising across our state, and school districts are going to have to teach true history and enforce Title VI, which requires that every child be afforded a safe and enjoyable education,” said Mark Thomsen.
The entire Gingras, Thomsen & Wachs team is proud to be part of such an important case and help Dasia Banks use her voice to prompt a much-needed change in the Baraboo School District and wider Wisconsin education system.
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