Two African American students who say they were subjected to repeated racial bullying at their rural Nevada high school have won a settlement in a federal discrimination lawsuit against the school district and the city of Yerington.
U.S. District Court Judge Larry Hicks sealed details of the settlement he approved in Reno on Monday.
But the teens’ lawyer declared victory on Tuesday, and court records show the city and the Lyon County School District agreed to pay at least $160,000 to cover the students’ attorney fees.
The Reno Gazette Journal first reported the settlement on its web site late Monday.
The two 15-year-old sisters, Jayla Tolliver and Taylissa Marriott, were freshmen at Yerington High about 65 miles (104 kilometers) southeast of Reno when their parents filed the lawsuit in January alleging they had been subjected to repeated racial slurs and threats for at least six months.
“I would never in a million years believe we would have to go through what we did,” Marriott said in a statement her lawyers emailed to The Associated Press on Tuesday.
“I hope that our story inspires others,” Tolliver said.
The lawsuit said the name-calling became terrifying in October when photos of a Lyon County sheriff’s deputy’s son holding a gun and wearing a belt with knives was posted on social media. Superimposed over the photos were the words “the red neck god of all gods. We ’bout to go (racial slur) huntin’ and “Watch out (racial slur).”
Their lead attorney, Terri Keyser-Cooper, said school officials knew the girls were complaining about the racial comments but that district officials couldn’t produce a single document showing they had investigated the nearly daily racial name-calling or had interviewed the girls about their experiences.
She and co-counsel Kerry Doyle said in a statement declaring victory they are hopeful Yerington police and school officials “will in the future be more sensitive, compassionate and responsive should racist behavior again occur.”
Yerington Police Chief Darren Wagner told the Reno Gazette Journal in an October 2017 interview that he was not investigating the threats posted on social media because they were protected as free speech and that the family’s police statements were shredded accidentally.
After the lawsuit was filed, the Yerington School District initiated changes to existing policies, reached out to racial harassment experts from the U.S Department of Education and agreed to pay for counseling for the teens.
But school district lawyers said in court filings in February the girls and their families could not prove there had been “deliberate indifference” necessary to establish a violation of federal law regarding the allegations of bullying and race-based discrimination. They said they met with about 50 students and their parents, contacted law officers approximately four times and suspended six students of accused of wrongdoing for between one and five days.
The Lyon County School District said in a statement Tuesday it was pleased “to confirm this matter has been resolved.”
“The district looks forward to working positively with students, families, and staff to ensure a safe and respectful learning environment for everyone,” the district said.