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Duluth Edison Charter Schools settles discrimination lawsuits; jury trial expected in remaining claims

Both settlement agreements state that Duluth Edison Charter Schools denies all liability and wrongdoing.

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North Star Academy is one of two schools is the Duluth Edison Charter Schools system. Duluth Edison is currently being sued by three families for racial discrimination. 2019 file / News Tribune
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Duluth Edison Charter Schools settled a lawsuit with a former employee and one of the four families that claim the school discriminated against them because of their race.

Former African American liaison Chrystal Gardner was paid $120,000 by Duluth Edison as part of her settlement agreement. The student who settled will be paid $150,000 by Duluth Edison’s insurance company. The student, who is Black, was a seventh grader at Edison when the lawsuit was first filed in April 2019.

Both settlement agreements state that Edison denies all liability and wrongdoing.

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Gardner claimed wrongful termination, retaliation and discrimination based on race. The lawsuit claims administration retaliated against her for calling out racial discrimination among students, teachers and administration and for asking the schools to make changes.
Gardner started at Duluth Edison in 2016. Gardner claimed when she started that she found students regularly used a racial slur. She said she was asked to give a presentation to students on how offensive the word is as well as the word’s history. Gardner said she was glad to do so, but claimed the problem was there were no consequences for students who used it, which her lawsuit also claims.

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The lawsuit claims Gardner felt treated differently from her American Indian liaison counterpart by staff and administrators.

The student’s most egregious claim in the lawsuit is that a white teacher cut off some of his hair when his glasses got stuck in it. The lawsuit claims after cutting the dreadlock and throwing it in the trash, the teacher told the student “I only cut the nappy strands.” Cutting the braids allegedly left a bald spot on the student’s head, which led to him being bullied even more.

In a deposition, the student claims the teacher cut out four dreadlocks and didn’t even try to untangle the glasses first. The student said after it happened he was given his glasses back and he just started crying. He said in the deposition after that he went back into the classroom but he was still crying. The student said he didn’t want to go back to school the next day because he was scared and nervous.

In his deposition, the student said he believed the teacher who cut his braids is a racist and he told her so.

“Here's the thing, I'm not trying to make them mad, but like if I feel a person is being racist, I'm going to call them out on it. That's the type of person I am,” the student said in a deposition.

When asked if the student told his teacher why he thought she was a racist, the student said, “Yes, I did, because I said, ‘Why are you so quick to do something for a white person, but as soon as I, as a black person asks for help, you take your time?’ I feel like people shouldn't do that, like we should all get treated the same way, even though it's not going to happen.”

The lawsuit also claimed that the student was hit and called racial slurs by white students and was punished more often and more severely than his white counterparts. The parents of the student also allege the school did not give proper accommodations to the student for his disability regarding his eye condition.

This student's settlement agreement states the settlement itself will not affect the remaining claims against the Duluth Edison.

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The remaining three families in the lawsuit are expected to go to a jury trial early this year, though a trial date has not yet been set.

Related Topics: CRIME AND COURTSDULUTH EDISON CHARTER SCHOOLS
Adelle Whitefoot is a former reporter for the Duluth News Tribune.
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