ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of New Mexico is suing the state's largest school district and a former teacher, claiming they created a hostile learning environment and discriminated against at a Native American student in 2018.
The ACLU says a Cibola High School teacher dressed up as a “voodoo witch” for Halloween and during her advanced placement English class, she started a game in which she asked students questions, rewarding correct answers with marshmallows and giving dog food to students who answered incorrectly.
During the course of the class, the teacher allegedly approached a Native American student and asked if she liked her braids. After the student replied affirmatively, the ACLU says the teacher cut three inches from the student’s hair with scissors.
Soon after the hair incident, the teacher asked another Native American student if she was dressed as a “bloody Indian” in front of the class, according to the ACLU.
Following public protests about the incidents at school board meetings, the Albuquerque Public Schools (APS) apologized and announced that it had severed its relationship with the teacher but would allow her to remain on its payroll to exhaust her paid leave before retiring.
The ACLU filed the complaint against APS and the former teacher Wednesday. The complaint further alleges that APS failed to properly train teachers on the harms of racism and to provide for its students safety.
“Students cannot possibly be expected to thrive if they have to fear being called racist and derogatory names by the very people who are entrusted with their learning and safety,” said Preston Sanchez, Indigenous Justice Attorney at the ACLU of New Mexico. “That’s why it’s imperative that we hold schools accountable when they fail to prevent or adequately address incidents of racism and harassment.”
School officials declined The Associated Press’ request to comment on the lawsuit.