Federal complaint filed against Bonham ISD and municipal court
BONHAM, Texas (KTEN) — Four civil rights groups in the State of Texas have filed a federal complaint to the Department of Justice against the Bonham Municipal Court and the Bonham Independent School District.
"There's really a culture of kind of turning a blind eye to it, and sometimes even explaining away the behavior," said Renuka Rege, policy advisor for Texas Appleseed. "Bonham ISD has unfortunately been creating a hostile environment in schools, for both students with disabilities and black kids, "
Disability Rights Texas, Texas Appleseed, the Texas Civil Rights Project and the National Center for Youth Law are representing two students, whose families are seeking justice.
"This isn't just about bullying," said Sadie Edwards, the mother of Brilliant, a student represented in the case. "This isn't just about mean kids saying the 'N-word' and being racist... this is about a whole administration, this is about a whole judicial system."
The families believe that the school and court system are unfairly punishing black and disabled students for behavior issues.
The complaint contains sections separately addressing each student. For Brilliant, a 14-year-old biracial student, it states he experienced harassment from his classmates daily.
"More punishment is not always the answer," Rege said. "We need to educate students and let them know that this is not acceptable behavior."
Brilliant has now been arrested twice by the school district's resource officer.
"From my end, what I see... I see a lot of racism," said Kevin Edwards, Brilliant's stepfather.
And Brilliant has been forced to be a part of the Bonham ISD disciplinary alternative education program..
"He's been in the disciplinary alternative school for over a year now for something that hasn't even been proven yet," Rege said.
"So he's guilty... with no trial, no discussion... nothing," Sadie Edwards added.
The civil rights organizations are hopeful this complaint will make the school system take action.
"Were hoping that Bonham ISD will make changes on their own," said Olivia Lee, an attorney with Disability Rights Texas. "Because a lot of it is just looking at policies, changing how they do things to actually accommodate and follow the law."
Bonham ISD Superintendent Kelly Trompler issued a statement on February 9 reacting to the complaint. It reads, in part:
"The District denies any allegations of discriminatory treatment of students or other individuals. Through its policies and practices, the District educates parents and students about the prohibitions against discriminatory conduct and of their rights to seek investigation of such concerns when brought to the attention of the District."
Trompler added that district policies are available to view online. Her full statement can be read here.