Dept. of Education finds Peoria Unified failed to address racial harassment of students

An investigation by the U.S. Department of Education found that a Peoria school violated students' civil rights by failing to address reports of racial harassment.

According to the DoE, peer harassment included:

  • race-based slurs, such as targeting the n-word and "ching chong" at students
  • mocking police killings of Black people
  • pulling eyes back to mock Asian students
  • mimicking "Heil Hitler" salutes
  • drawing Swastikas on photographs of students’ faces on notebooks
  • saying Black people "do not deserve to live" and "should die"
  • a student’s skin looked like "burnt" food
  • a student should "go back to [their] country" and "eat dog"

"Harassment by employees involved repeated touching of and comments exclusively about a Black student’s hair. The persistent, pervasive, and severe harassment and the district’s ineffective response caused significant and enduring academic, social, and emotional harm to the student who was the subject of the OCR complaint. Moreover, OCR found that a schoolwide hostile environment existed because at least a dozen other students of color at the school were likewise harassed based on race, color, or national origin by numerous peers," stated officials.

The report says the district was ineffective in responding or did not respond at all, creating a hostile environment.

Peoria Unified School District statement:

"We are moving forward with the voluntary resolution agreement as we are confident in our new leadership to build a positive and inclusive environment for students and staff at Vistancia. Peoria Unified remains unwavering in our commitment to provide equal educational opportunities to all students and an environment that is free from harassment of any kind."

The district’s commitments in the voluntary resolution agreement include:

  • Providing supports and remedies, where appropriate, to students who were subjected to peer harassment based on race, color, or national origin at the school.
  • Conducting a climate assessment that examines the prevalence of harassment at the school, the hostile environment created by the widespread harassment, the school’s and district’s handling of reports of harassment, and measures for reducing harassment at the school and for improving the district’s response to reports of harassment.
  • Issuing an anti-harassment statement and issuing a notice to parents about identifying and reporting harassment and about how the district is expected to respond.
  • Reviewing, revising, and disseminating policies, forms, and record-keeping procedures related to harassment based on race, color, and national origin.
  • Training staff about legal requirements under Title VI, reporting and responding to harassment, prohibited retaliation, cultural competency, and implicit bias. And,
  • Providing developmentally appropriate educational programs about how to recognize and report racial harassment for school students.

"Every student in every school deserves to learn free from discriminatory harassment," said Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Catherine E. Lhamon. "Peoria Unified School District today commits to come into compliance with longstanding federal civil rights requirements, ensuring that district students learn without discrimination based on race or national origin."

The letter to Peoria Unified School District is available here and the resolution agreement is available here.