Bonham ISD, along with Corpus Christi ISD, are being accused of discriminating against students with disabilities and students of color by relying on truancy court referrals and creating hostile education environments that push students out of school, according to a complaint filed today with the U.S. Department of Justice and Texas Education Agency.
Texas Appleseed, Disability Rights Texas, National Center for Youth Law, and Texas Civil Rights Project filed the DOJ complaint against Bonham Independent School District (BISD).
In a press release, Disability Rights Texas said the complaint to the DOJ is filed on behalf of two complainants and all similarly situated students with BISD.
“Students with school absences that are caused by their disabilities deserve supportive, informed, and compassionate interventions to help them engage in and attend school. Unfortunately, without ever making a good-faith effort to meet students’ needs, BISD and CCISD are instead referring children to truancy court, where they often are ordered to drop out of school and attend General Educational Development (GED) programs or other school alternatives that deprive them of the learning opportunities to which they are entitled under federal law.
BISD is accused of intentionally discriminating against Black students and students with disabilities by perpetuating a hostile environment on the basis of race and disability, in violation of the U.S. Constitution and federal civil rights laws.
“Our client with disabilities was entitled to reasonable accommodations, but he was incarcerated three times in 12 months due to the school’s failure to properly accommodate him which caused him to break his terms of probation,” said Olivia Lee, Disability Rights Texas attorney. “One of those three times was when the truancy court ordered him to drop out of school, an order that directly conflicted with his probation term to graduate.”
“I feel every child deserves a quality education despite their disabilities. My grandson was judged unfairly. He struggled with his disabilities and the school knew about it, but did nothing to assist him,” said one complainant’s grandmother. “He was targeted from an early age at school, starting at 12 years old. He lost his childhood because of the school and the court system. I don’t want this to happen to other children.”
Additionally, the complaint claims BISD’s deliberate indifference to racial harassment creates an “unsafe environment for its Black students.
“Racial slurs that were said to one complainant and other Black students, such as the n-word, ‘cotton picker,’ and ‘black monkey.’ were not unequivocally rebuked by school administrators who heard them. BISD’s inaction has allowed this inexcusable behavior to continue, creating a discriminatory, unsafe, hostile environment for its Black students, which is compounded by racial targeting by the district’s school resource officer (SRO).”
Renuka Rege, Policy Advisor for Texas Appleseed’s Education Justice Project, said, “students of color deserve safe, supportive educational environments free from racial harassment and targeting by peers and school staff. Unfortunately, BISD has created the opposite, pushing students of color out of school through pervasive racial slurs by peers and indifference from school staff, and persistent racial targeting by the SRO that results in disciplinary alternative school placement and arrest.”
“I hope for awareness, change, and inclusivity,” said Sadie Edwards, the mother of one complainant. “I know we can’t make change overnight, but maybe this complaint will help others step out and say that we are tired of discrimination and we don’t want it to happen anymore. I hope that by the time my grandson is old enough to go to school, he doesn’t have to deal with the same thing.”
Read the DOJ complaint against Bonham ISD.
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Disability Rights Texas is the federally designated legal protection and advocacy agency (P&A) for people with disabilities in Texas established in 1977. Its mission is to help people with disabilities understand and exercise their rights under the law, ensuring their full and equal participation in society.
The National Center for Youth Law centers youth through research, community collaboration, impact litigation, and policy advocacy that fundamentally transforms our nation’s approach to education, health, immigration, foster care, and youth justice. Our vision is a world in which every child thrives and has a full and fair opportunity to achieve the future they envision for themselves. For more information, visit www.youthlaw.org.
As one of the most trusted resources for data-driven policy analysis and solutions, Texas Appleseed advocates at the state and local level for fair, just, and equitable laws. Their work has shaped hundreds of laws and positively affected millions of Texans by breaking down barriers through transformative policy solutions. Visit www.TexasAppleseed.org for more information.
The Texas Civil Rights Project is boldly serving the movement for equality and justice in and out of the courts. TCRP uses its tools of litigation and legal advocacy to protect and advance the civil rights of everyone in Texas and partners with communities across the state to serve the rising movement for social justice. It undertakes its work with a vision of a Texas in which all communities can thrive with dignity, justice and without fear.