CEDARBURG — The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction ruled Friday that the Cedarburg School District “did not conduct a reasonable investigation” of a parent’s complaint that her child had experienced persistent racial harassment at Cedarburg High School, noting that the district had both failed to follow its own complaint procedures and “to take even the most basic steps to develop sufficient facts” to determine whether a racially hostile environment existed in district schools.
The decision comes after an appeal filed by the ACLU of Wisconsin on behalf of Jessie Mchomvu, whose biracial son was continually subjected to persistent racial jokes and comments at school, including a fellow student expressing the desire to drive a car over Black Lives Matter protesters. DPI has given the district 30 days to submit a corrective action plan specifying the steps it will take to ensure future compliance with the procedures specified in its nondiscrimination and anti-harassment policies, as well as the steps it will take to conduct a complete factual investigation of Ms. Mchomvu’s claims.
“DPI’s ruling reaffirms that school districts have a duty to proactively investigate complaints of racial harassment to determine whether there is a racially hostile environment in the schools,” said Elisabeth Lambert, Equal Justice Works Fellow with the ACLU of Wisconsin and the attorney on the case. “Jessie tried for months to tell the school district about the problems her son was experiencing —speaking with administrators and addressing school board meetings — but she was repeatedly brushed off and ignored. This DPI ruling makes it clear that the district should have listened and took action the first time the issues were brought to them.”
“My goal in filing the complaint against the school district was to get them to actually do something,” Jessie said. “It has been frustrating and exhausting to listen to the same general response over and over and have no action taken to stop the discrimination that BIPOC students face in Cedarburg. To get the response that we did from DPI makes my family feel validated.”