On September 10, 2021, the National Women’s Law Center, along with our law firm partner Debevoise & Plimpton LLP, filed an amicus brief to the U.S. District of Minnesota, on behalf of 32 additional organizations, in support of three students represented by Nichols Kaster PLLP and Public Justice. The students include three Black and bi-racial children in Minnesota who claim they were frequently treated differently than white students, experienced ongoing race-based harassment, and were subject to a hostile learning environment at Duluth Edison Charter Schools (DECS), in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1963, and the Minnesota Human Rights Act. 

NWLC’s brief supports the students’ challenge by arguing that when educators discipline Black students more frequently and more harshly for behaviors they typically overlook with white students, such differential treatment leads to unequal educational opportunities for Black students. Additionally, we argue that schools commit race discrimination when they mistreat Black students in connection with how they wear their hair. We also outline the harms of dress codes, including uniform policies, which are steeped in race- and gender-based stereotypes and often lead schools to discriminatorily enforce them against Black girls. We conclude that these forms of race discrimination often result in a hostile learning environment for Black students, especially when left ignored by school administrators—as was the case at DECS. 

In June 2022, the District Court unsealed an opinion it filed in March 2022, denying DECS’s motion for summary judgment. Although the attorneys on the case, Public Justice and Nichols Kaster, will still have to bring the case to trial, the Court found that at this stage, a reasonable jury could conclude that DECS had a custom and practice of deliberate indifference to racial harassment and discriminatory discipline, engaged in disparate treatment of Black students, and perpetuated a racially hostile learning environment. The Court also acknowledged the ample evidence in the record demonstrating how DECS “did not treat racism with appropriate seriousness, and instead downplayed, minimized, and even ignored the serious nature of the racist comments by treating them ineffectively as ‘learning opportunities.’”

Learn more about the case in our blog here