, , , ,

Complaint: Biracial student expelled from Oshkosh schools was subject of racial harassment

A group of Black, biracial middle schoolers were charged with juvenile crimes while white students were not investigated, ACLU of Wisconsin claims

Students walk through the halls in a high school.
In this Aug. 29, 2013 photo, students walk through the halls during an open house for incoming freshman and transfer students at a high school in Philadelphia. Matt Slocum/AP Photo

A biracial student who was harassed and called a racial slur at school was expelled from Oshkosh schools after a fight at a middle school dance led to juvenile charges against students of color, a complaint against the school district alleges.

Sixth-grader Karizma Keys and seventh-grader TreVon Swan, who are brother and sister, were harassed and called racial slurs at school during the fall of 2021, according to a complaint filed early this week with the federal Office of Civil Rights by the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin. Their mother, Melissa Swan, asked the district to put an end to the harassment, meeting with district staff in October.

Instead, the complaint alleges that things got worse for the kids. At a Halloween dance on Oct. 27, students allegedly harassed and threw water on three Black or biracial students. When the students shouted back, staff told TreVon to leave the dance.

Stay informed on the latest news

Sign up for WPR’s email newsletter.

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

“While TreVon was in the cafeteria putting on his sweatshirt, someone in a crowd of students threw a full water bottle at him and it hit him in the head,” the complaint alleges. “He threw it back into the crowd.”

This led the school’s principal to physically remove TreVon from the cafeteria. A “crush” of students trying to see what was happening broke a glass window in the cafeteria door, and a teacher called 911, says the complaint.

In response to the incident, police brought disorderly conduct charges against a group of middle schoolers, and the school moved to expel TreVon, Karizmah and other students of color. The complaint says the district took these actions while failing to investigate or act on the racial harassment that had precipitated the incident, or to discipline the white students alleged to have used racial slurs.

The district expelled TreVon in December; since then, he’s been attending virtual school through an alternative program. The district later rescinded Karizmah’s expulsion.

The ACLU filed the complaint on the behalf of Melissa Swan. They’re calling on the district to investigate a “racially hostile environment” in schools, to reverse TreVon’s expulsion and expunge Karizmah’s disciplinary record.

In a statement Thursday, a spokesperson for the Oshkosh Area School District said the district “remains committed to providing a safe environment for all students and takes any claims of discriminatory acts very seriously.”

The district notes that the ACLU “appeared in a student expulsion matter, and that upon full hearing by an independent hearing officer, a student was expelled for endangering the property, health, and safety of others while at school and for repeated rule violations. The ACLU did appeal that decision to the State Department of Public Instruction, which upheld the expulsion decision.”

Racial disparities in school discipline practices have been tracked widely across many school districts. In Milwaukee schools, which settled a federal civil rights complaint in 2018, a report last month found racial disparities in suspensions have increased in recent years. Last year, the state Department of Public Instruction found a racially hostile environment at Burlington Public Schools.

Nor is this the first recent complaint the ACLU of Wisconsin has filed against a Wisconsin school district. In May, the group alleged that a sixth-grader in Grantsburg had been blocked from forming an LGBTQ club. In June, it filed a complaint against schools in Chippewa Falls that claimed to find “pervasive instances of sexual, racial and gender-based harassment.”