Lawsuit: Gifted student's parents allege bullying, race-based abuse at Richland One middle school

Published: Aug. 31, 2017 at 2:11 AM EDT|Updated: Aug. 31, 2017 at 8:37 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - A former honor and advanced student of a Richland District One middle school was so traumatized by fellow students, that she resigned herself to eating lunch in a bathroom stall, according to a lawsuit filed by her parents in August.

In a lawsuit filed on Aug. 18 against the Richland School District One, Alex Young, an active duty soldier stationed at Fort Gordon, and Toschia Moffett, the parents of India Young, says for two school years beginning in 2015, their daughter "faced continuous and escalating race-based verbal and physical harassment from her peers when she attended Hand Middle School."

India, who is black, was allegedly called racial slurs and physically assaulted by other students. The lawsuit also alleges the district failed to take adequate action to fix it.

"The verbal bullying and harassment began almost immediately. Hand Middle School students called India racial slurs like 'Oreo,' 'white girl,' 'wannabe white girl,' and 'black white b!%&*,' and generally maligned her for "acting white," the lawsuit says.

The lawsuit details the instances of abuse India allegedly received. They include:

  • In or around October 2015, a group of three female students attempted to push India down a flight of stairs. These same students had verbally accosted India on prior occasions and continued to do so after the assault.
  • India's parents eventually pulled her out of school in May 2017, stating that, "India was deprived of a supportive, scholastic environment free of race-based antagonism and harassment."
  • Young and Moffett are now asking for a jury trial - and demanding a bullying prevention program in the district.
  • In November 2016, a male student violently shoved India into a table. On the following day, the same female student who had slapped India in the face kicked India’s rear end with such force that she had to visit the doctor and experienced difficulty sitting for a month.
  • On or about February 10, 2017, a group of approximately 12 students surrounded India while she was beaten with a bottle.
  • On March 17, 2017, the same male student who shoved India in November 2016 hit her in the face with a backpack. The blow from the backpack “chip[ed] two teeth and caus[ed] her nose to gush blood. The incident was caught on video and the school promised to keep [the male student] away from India.”
  • On the same day India returned, the male student who hit her in the face with the backpack followed India to the auditorium and intimidated her during theater rehearsal.
  • On or about May 7, 2017, a group of students who had harassed India on prior occasions chased her behind a tree and taunted her. The 7th-grade principal informed India’s mother that India should have been on the other side of the playground. At this point, India’s parents made the decision that it would be best for India to finish the remainder of the school year from home.

The lawsuit says that India developed stress, anxiety, and self-esteem issues that affected her education and caused her to miss several days of school. So much so, India began eating her lunch over a toilet in a bathroom stall to avoid other children.

Her parents claim that they attempted to meet with Richland One Superintendent Dr. Craig Witherspoon on multiple occasions, including after a school board meeting. The lawsuit claims that Witherspoon slipped out of the school board meeting and "was overheard saying that he was avoiding them."

The lawsuit also includes an email from India's father, that was sent to each school board member about the abuse. The email says, in part:

I need some help. I am an active duty military soldier and I need some help, I cannot instruct my soldiers during the day for fear of what is happening to my child. My daughter, India Young has been consistently physically abused by students at Hand Middle School and the administration will not do anything about it.

They may send a kid to ISS but they come right out and do it again. She has been pushed into a wall by a boy, kicked in the butt by a young lady, the same young lady went to ISS came out the next day and slapped her glasses off. Nothing happened to them. She has been mocked, told that she "talks like a white girl," and tortured. She had water thrown in her face yesterday and today was beaten in the back of the head with a Lipton tea bottle with over 12 kids surrounding her.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. The administration is stating the children are being reprimanded yet, the same kids keep doing it and other kids do it as well. Other kids are being bullied as well.

Please help my family! My daughter is severely depressed, does not want to come to school for fear of getting beat up every day and her therapist is appalled. I expect more from an award winning school.

We reached out to the Richland One School District, and a spokesperson said, "It is our practice not to comment on pending litigation."

You can view the full lawsuit here. WARNING: There is graphic language in the document

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