Wisconsin DPI orders Burlington schools to fix racial environment

The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction says one local school district has a "hostile" racial environment.

The state is giving the Burlington Area School District 30 days to come up with a plan to fix the problem.

The state’s 32-page report lists 19 cases of racial harassment from 2016 to 2020.

That includes several uses of racial slurs. It also states a Black student, who brought a toy gun to school, faced an out-of-school 1-day suspension, while a white student who brought in a jackknife got a detention.

The Wisconsin DPI determines:

"Racial harassment at BASD was severe, pervasive and persistent…" Also, "it is logical that use of racial slurs and comments in the district continued when the consequences for students doing so were almost non-existent."

The state's determination comes after parent Darnisha Garbade filed a formal complaint in 2020. She has since pulled her two Black daughters out of the school district, and the family also moved.

"It was very traumatizing for my children to be called the n-word. And this was something that was going on on a regular basis," she said.

The state lists 19 incidents of racial harrassment at BASD schools and says the district's response was "insufficient" with little evidence the district investigated to see if the cases were part of a larger problem.

"These are babies, these are babies we are talking about here," Garbade said during a press conference after the state issued its findings. She founded Burlington Coalition for Dismantling Racism.

FOX6 requested an interview with district superintendent Stephen Plank, but instead, he put out a video stating this:

"The Burlington Area School District would never intentionally treat Black and Brown students differently based on race. We most certainly regret leaving anyone impacted or feeling this way. We have been proactively working to reject all forms of racism, discrimination, and harassment and share in the goal to dismantle racism in Burlington. Equity must be evident in all that we do within the district," Superintendent Stephen Plank said. 

In the fall, Burlington erupted in controversy over Black Lives Matter lessons taught in one fourth-grade class.

Then in November, a contentious debate over an anti-racism proposal that activists said didn't go far enough ended with the activists interrupting the board meeting with chants like "Black Lives Matter."

DPI says the school district "failed to respond adequately to redress the hostile racial environment which existed in the district."

Now, the Burlington Area School District has 30 days to come up with a plan to fix the issues raised by the state.

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