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Wisconsin orders Burlington schools to fix racial environment

According to the district, one in five students are minority.
Posted at 3:18 PM, Apr 12, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-12 20:03:08-04

BURLINGTON — The state Department of Public Instruction has ordered the Burlington Area School District to repair what the agency is calling a “racially hostile environment.”

The school district now has 30 days to request a review by a circuit court judge.

A complaint was filed back in March by Darnisha Garbade against the school district, after she said her daughter was interrogated by a school principal for bringing a toy gun to school.

Garbade said after a long five-year battle with the district, Friday's ruling the DPI brings her a sigh of relief.

RELATED: Burlington teacher draws criticism, support over lesson including Black Lives Matter resource materials

Garbade founded the Burlington Coalition for Dismantling Racism in 2019 after experiencing years of racism targeting her children within the district.

"I'm hoping that DPI's ruling will put all Wisconsin schools on notice that children of color deserve to have a safe learning environment and you will be held accountable," Garbade said.

DPI states in its findings: "The investigation found that there were, at a minimum, nineteen incidents of racial harassment at BASD between 2016-2020. It was also stated that additional incidents of racial harassment occurred during that same time, but "DPI is unable to determine the exact number and severity of additional incidents due to a lack of investigation and documentation in the record."

The investigation also identified that the school district's nondiscrimination procedure does not comply with Wisconsin's administrative code.

The district has 30 days to submit a corrective action plan specifying steps. For example, they need to:

  • 1) Prevent further instances of discrimination in discipline.
  • 2) Adequately redress the racially hostile environment present in BASD.
  • 3) Review its past reporting on discrimination complaints to ensure compliance with BASD policies and procedures and enact clear guidelines for future reporting.
  • 4) Revise its policies and procedures to ensure they are in compliance with the Wisconsin Administrative Code

The School District put out a statement Monday reacting to the findings saying,

"This work is imperative. Why? Because one in five students in the Burlington Area School District is a minority. We need to create an environment where every student feels like they can succeed."
Burlington Area School District

BASD has approximately 3,000 students. That means about 600 would be classified as minorities.

Garbade said she wants the district to do what DPI said they should be doing.

"What we're looking for is a safe learning environment for our children," Garbade stated.

Sarah Bielefeldt is Hispanic and attended BASD. She said she was racially targeted in the classroom, but hopes that change is finally coming.

"I cried when I read it. I was so excited," Bielefeldt said. "To see that somebody is getting justice and to see that somebody is finally listening to these children - that's all I ever wanted."

For the Burlington community, there's a long road ahead to repairing trust and ensuring all children are treated the same.

Ultimately, it all starts with a conversation, and during the news conference at Echo Park Monday afternoon, that was on display as community members shared their thoughts on a heated topic.

Garbade said while this is a great first step, the work is far from over and that she will continue to work to ensure equality for children within the classroom.

See the school district's release below:

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