MORGANTOWN – A parent is suing Monongalia County Board of Education and the Monongalia County Sheriff’s Department after she claims her daughter was assaulted by a other student.
H.L., a biracial student in the Monongalia County school district, suffered persistent race-based discrimination, harassment and bullying by a white student during her freshman year at University High School and was unable to get school administrators or the school resource officer from the Monongalia County Sheriff’s Department to take appropriate action to protect her, according to a complaint filed Feb. 16 in Monongalia Circuit Court.
Melissa Hawkins claims her daughter endured racial harassment and bullying, including being targeted by a white student with racial slurs, intimidating posts on social media and threats that ultimately escalated to a violent physical assault with a blade on school grounds.
Prior to the assault, H.L. reported the harassment to the school’s assistant principal and the school resource officer and showed them the intimidating and threatening videos posted on social media, including one where H.L.’s tormentor repeatedly called H.L. a “nigger,” according to the suit.
Hawkins claims the defendants failed to investigate the harassment or take any steps to stop the harassment or to ensure H.L.’s safety.
The defendants’ lack of action about racial bullying was consistent with the culture of racial hostility that they have allowed to permeate UHS, as some students regularly taunted minorities with racial slurs in classrooms, hallways and other common areas, at school sporting events and on school buses, with no meaningful consequences, according to the suit.
Hawkins claims after the assault, the defendants also failed to investigate thoroughly and impartially and concluded that H.L.’s injuries were self-inflicted.
The school’s assistant principal communicated the conclusion to H.L.’s mother the day of the attack, while H.L. was at the hospital waiting for a doctor to examine her wounds, according to the suit. The defendants then shared the conclusion with students and others in the community, as social media posts appeared that named H.L. and said her wounds were self-inflicted, which further traumatized H.L., according to the suit.
Hawkins claims to make matters worse, because the defendants refused to acknowledge that H.L. had been assaulted, UHS initially refused to provide her with medically ordered accommodations that would allow her to continue her education in a safe environment and the defendants eventually agreed to the accommodations, but only after H.L.’s mother retained counsel.
Hawkins is seeking compensatory damages with pre- and post-judgment interest. She is being represented by Sean W. Cook of Meyer Ford & Glasser; and Adele P. Kimmel of Public Justice.
Monongalia Circuit Court case number: 17-C-81