Black students in northwest Georgia file suit alleging discrimination

Several Black Coosa High School students have filed a lawsuit against the Floyd County school system, saying they were wrongly suspended for organizing a protest last fall after white students wore clothing bearing the Confederate flag.

Combined ShapeCaption
Several Black Coosa High School students have filed a lawsuit against the Floyd County school system, saying they were wrongly suspended for organizing a protest last fall after white students wore clothing bearing the Confederate flag.

Black students at a northwest Georgia high school have filed a federal lawsuit asserting their rights were violated when they were suspended for organizing a protest last fall after white students wore clothing bearing the Confederate flag.

The five Coosa High students and their mothers say in a complaint filed in the U.S. District Court in Rome Tuesday that their right to free speech was violated by a discriminatory dress code and social media policy.

“This has been going on for years,” said Jessica Murray, a plaintiff and the mother of two of the students. She said her complaints were routinely ignored.

“We have video showing exactly what’s happening,” added Harry M. Daniels, an Atlanta attorney who helped file the lawsuit.

The Black students were made to turn T-shirts inside out because they carried symbols associated with the Black Lives Matter movement, including an image of George Floyd, a Black man whose killing by police touched off national protests, the lawsuit says. Meanwhile, white students were allowed to carry the Confederate flag and wear belts, hoodies and hats bearing its image.

A spokeswoman for Floyd County Schools did not respond to calls seeking comment.

The plaintiffs allege their rights under the U.S. Constitution and federal law also were violated because school officials were indifferent to evidence of racist remarks by white students and teachers.

White students reenacted Floyd’s killing in a hallway at Coosa High, the lawsuit says, and posted a video online with the tag “Georgefloydchallenge.” It says white students were not punished after publishing racial slurs on social media and that a teacher invoked racial stereotypes, wondering aloud whether Black students could swim.

The lawsuit says the Black students were suspended five days for planning an off-campus protest in reaction to white students’ display of a Confederate flag and other symbols during the school’s spirit week in October. The protest was shut down before it occurred. Some white students who were involved in planning it were not suspended, the lawsuit notes. It seeks damages, expungement of school records concerning the incidents and an injunction on such punishment in the future.

Shannon Liss-Riordan of Boston, another of the plaintiffs’ attorneys, said they hope the lawsuit raises awareness about racism in schools.

“This should not happen in America today,” she said. “This is happening in Coosa, Georgia and this is happening around the country.”

Lekisha Turner, mother of three of the plaintiffs, said the behavior her children witnessed can metastasize into something lethal.

“You’re setting the tone. You’re creating these people who are going to grow up to be adults who all during their school life were allowed to treat people that did not look like them with hate,” she said.

They can grow violent, like the shooter who killed 10 Black people at a Tops Friendly Market in Buffalo, she said, adding that her children learned Tuesday that one of the victims was a distant cousin.