MILWAUKEE — In the wake of numerous reports of harassment in public schools, the ACLU of Wisconsin is reminding school leaders of their responsibility to protect all students from discrimination. A letter sent today to public school administrators and board members expressed the organization’s serious concern regarding complaints of persistent racial and sexual bullying and harassment in school districts across Wisconsin. 

“School districts have an obligation to protect students from harassment based on race, color, national origin, sex, or disability – including bullying and harassment by other students,” said Chris Ott, ACLU of Wisconsin executive director. “Schools must be held accountable for turning a blind eye to harassment and discrimination. Students have a right to an education, and Wisconsin schools must ensure that a hostile environment does not interfere with that right.”

Over the past several years, the ACLU of Wisconsin has received complaints that report the use of racial epithets and inappropriate comments about sex and gender made by students and teachers alike, as well as the absence of policies and practices for prevention and response to racial and gendered harassment of students. The organization has also received reports of schools failing to take complaints seriously, suggesting harassing behavior should be taken as jokes, and failing to take action to implement meaningful and adequate measures to ensure these problems do not recur.

Noting that students of color and students with disabilities also are expelled at disproportionate rates in Wisconsin, the ACLU of Wisconsin also warned school administrators against adopting “zero-tolerance” discipline policies that impose explicit, predetermined punishments for specific violations of school rules, regardless of the circumstances or context of the behavior.

The ACLU of Wisconsin is requesting that school officials notify the organization of the steps the school districts plan to take to end the harassment to which students have been subjected.