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Local News

Lawsuit: Wilmington school officials refused to stop racist bullying of student

A federal lawsuit alleges Wilmington School District 209U administrators refused to intervene on behalf of a 14-year-old biracial student who suffered racial harassment and physical attacks.

On Thursday, a 26-page lawsuit was filed against the school district in federal court by Melissa Zirbel, the mother of a student identified as “CSZ” in the filing.

Zirbel’s lawsuit demands a jury trial.

Zirbel’s lawsuit claims her court action arises out of district officials’ “consistent and deliberate indifference” to the racial harassment and abuse her son suffered since he was an elementary school student in 2013.

Zirbel said her son is “one of only a very few minority or biracial students in an overwhelmingly Caucasian student body.”

“Throughout elementary school and middle school in the district, other students have ridiculed, harassed, tormented, and physically attacked CSZ because of his African-American heritage,” the lawsuit alleged.

Zirbel said she previously filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights.

The office placed the district under a mandatory plan for complying with federal laws, according to the lawsuit, and school officials agreed to resolve the complaint by teaching diversity sensitivity to the student body.

“However, defendants’ actions have been inadequate to arrest or reverse the emotional, psychological, and educational harm CSZ has suffered as the direct result of defendants’ deliberate indifference to the racial harassment that he faced,” the lawsuit said.

District Superintendent Matt Swick wrote in an email that the school district “is and always has been committed to treating all students equally and fairly.”

“In regards to any allegations made against the school district, please know that the district is truly confident that it provides a safe and nondiscriminatory environment for all of its students and fully denies that it has been part of or failed to address any allegations of discrimination,” Swick wrote.

Swick said the district has been working cooperatively with the Office of Civil Rights over the past two years by reviewing district practices and policies to ensure the district is not discriminating against students.

Swick said the Office of Civil Rights “has confirmed that the district has not engaged in any improper discriminatory conduct.”

He said the office “continues its collaboration with our district regarding the implementation of practices consistent with the legal obligations of a public school district to promote the best interests of our students.”

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