State weighs in on alleged racist incidents at Heuvelton Central School

Published: Dec. 7, 2022 at 4:38 PM EST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

HEUVELTON, New York (WWNY) - The state’s Division of Human Rights is weighing in on alleged racist incidents at Heuvelton Central School, including one where students spelled out the ‘n-word’ on the gym floor.

Investigators say there’s “probable cause” that the district discriminated against two students based on their race and gender.

The district denies all allegations of discrimination.

The complaint was filed by Amy Chisholm on behalf of her two daughters, Maia and Mikaylah. Both students, who are mixed race, said they had been victims of repeated racial bullying.

According to the Division of Human Rights, the Chisholms and the school district disagree on details surrounding much of the alleged bullying.

However, the district does acknowledge students formed a choreographed racial slur with their bodies on the Heuvelton High School gym floor in February. It was a slang version of the n-word.

At least 5 students, some of whom may have been members of the boys’ basketball team, were involved in the incident, which was posted on social media.

The state’s investigation says the students were “on an athletic team” and gives details about their punishment.

According to the report, the district suspended the students who were involved. Each student received either a 32-day suspension or a 15-day suspension.

The shorter suspension was offered to students if they completed an 18-hour cultural competency course and participated in “restorative re-entry/harm circles” with the Chisholms.

The district told the state it spent more than $95,000 on the restorative activities.

But while the players were suspended, the girls’ mom alleges team practice was canceled and all players, including those who were suspended, went on a fishing trip in a ploy to soften their punishment.

The state appears to agree, stating, “there is a material issue of fact as to whether the actions of certain personnel could be construed as supporting the students’ discriminatory behavior by allowing participation in certain activities which would undermine the students’ punishment.”

In March, the district acknowledged the school superintendent and a principal participated in a music video with students. The song included the n-word and violent, misogynistic, sexually explicit lyrics.

“While this video was first recorded in January 2021, there is a material issue of fact as to whether enough was done by Respondents (school officials) to ensure that there would be no repeated use of the video in the school,” the state’s report said.

As for the alleged racial bullying of the Chisholm girls, their mother’s attorney says it happened repeatedly.

“In the petition, we allege incidents as early as 2018 and ongoing up until present day,” said Edward Narrow.

The report alleges both girls have been called the n-word. According to the complaint, Maia Chisholm was “told to go back to Africa” and that she should “go pick cotton.”

The district responded by saying it has no records of that happening, or in the records it does have, there are no “victims” listed.

The state says its investigation found sufficient evidence to indicate that Maia and Mikaylah Chisholm may have been subjected to unlawful discrimination because they are Black and female.

The report also states that “there is a material issue of fact as to whether enough was done by the school to stop/discourage the discriminatory behavior of its students.”

On Wednesday, district superintendent Jesse Colburn issued this statement:

“The Heuvelton Central School District has answered a complaint filed with the NYS Division of Human Rights and has denied, and continues to deny, all allegations of discrimination. There has been no determination of guilt. The District received notice that a formal fact-finding hearing will be scheduled before an Administrative Law Judge. Since this is a legal matter involving a minor, the district has no additional information to share at this time.”

The Division of Human Rights describes the “public hearing” before an administrative law judge as a proceeding where evidence is presented, witnesses give testimony under oath, and witnesses can be cross-examined.

“Ultimately, what I think that our client would like is an acknowledgment from the school district that there was discrimination, that that discrimination was made known to the administration and that the administration failed to act promptly or to take measures to curtail any future discriminatory practices against my client from other members of the student body,” said Narrow. “Ultimately, that’s the goal. It’s to educate people here that discrimination based upon a person’s race is not acceptable and has never been acceptable in the 20th Century and certainly shouldn’t be acceptable in today’s day and age.”

The hearing is expected to happen in the new year.