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Lawsuit alleges racism in Burlington Area School District

Dyer Elementary School
Posted at 10:08 PM, May 06, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-06 23:17:09-04

BURLINGTON, Wis. — A Burlington principal already on leave amid an investigation into a former teacher's aid is named in a civil lawsuit alleging racism in school.

Darnisha Garbade is suing the Burlington Area School District (BASD) and Principal Scott Schimmel on behalf of two of her daughters in federal court. She says her daughters were racially bullied for years and wants the district to be held accountable.

Garbade moved her family to Burlington in 2016 when her two daughters were in third and sixth grades.

"We had done some research. The schools were good, according to their scores. The community was good," Garbade said.

Garbade no longer lives there.

Last November, she and her attorney, Mark Thomsen, filed a lawsuit which details at least 20 instances spanning from 2016 to 2020 in which Garbade says her daughters were treated unfairly by staff and students.

The lawsuit states Garbade's daughters were called racial slurs.

Court documents indicate the lawyers for the district deny many of Garbade's allegations. The attorneys and a spokesperson for the district say they will not comment on this current litigation.

The lawsuit alleges in 2018 a white student threatened to murder Garbade's younger daughter and retaliated against her for reporting it.

The lawsuit states Garbade's daughter "was terrified to return to Dyer in fear of additional retaliation," and that her daughter "asked her mother to withdraw her from Dyer and send her to another school."

"She said, 'Mom, I want to go to school where there's more Black kids,'" Garbade said.

The lawsuit indicates Garbade reported this to Dyer Elementary Principal Scott Schimmel. The lawsuit states, "Despite Principal Schimmel's actual knowledge of racial bullying during the 2018-2019 school year, he did not report any acts of racial bullying as required. The BASD submitted a 2018-2019 Bullying Report to the Department of Public Instruction showing zero instances of racial bullying at Dyer Intermediate School during the 2018-2019 school year."

In 2020, Garbade filed a complaint with the Department of Public Instruction. In 2021, DPI found in part,"BASD failed to respond adequately to redress the hostile racial environment which existed in the district." DPI charged the district to come up with a corrective action plan.

"I was excited, I felt like somebody had finally seen and heard us," Garbade said.

In 2020, BASD adopted a new anti-racism policy. It has worked with several equity consultants. The corrective action plan lists many steps, some of which include training staff, improving the curriculum and establishing a director of equity.

Garbade has since pulled her daughters from the district. She started the Burlington Coalition to Dismantle Racism.

"I want to see a more equitable school district. I want to see that trickle down into the community as a whole, and I want to see a more equitable Burlington, and then I'm hoping that that will continue to spread across Wisconsin," Garbade said.

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