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Missouri attorney general is accused of racial bias for pinning a student fight on diversity program

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LA Post: Missouri attorney general is accused of racial bias for pinning a student fight on diversity program
AP
SUMMER BALLENTINE
March 26, 2024

COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) — Days after Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey blamed an after-school fight on a school district's diversity programming, a lawyer for the majority Black district in suburban St. Louis said that the state's chief attorney is showing “obvious racial bias."

Bailey, who is campaigning to keep his seat, said last week that he is investigating possible violations of the state’s human rights laws by the Hazelwood School District, after a March 8 fight left a girl hospitalized with severe head injuries.

Bailey blamed the school district’s diversity, equity and inclusion programming as a cause for the fight, which St. Louis County police say happened after school hours in a neighborhood about two blocks from Hazelwood East High School. He said were it not for the programs, a school resource officer would have been present at the school.

“I am launching an investigation into Hazelwood School District after a student was senselessly assaulted by another student in broad daylight,” Bailey said in a statement. “The entire community deserves answers on how Hazelwood’s radical DEI programs resulted in such despicable safety failures that has resulted in a student fighting for her life.”

Hazelwood School District lawyer Cindy Reeds Ormsby said in a Tuesday letter to Bailey that his “obvious racial bias against majority minority school districts is clear.”

“Do you honestly believe, again, without any official verification or specific knowledge, that the fight on March 8th was a result of a racial issue between the female students that was caused by the HSD belief in the importance of diversity, equity and inclusion for all?” Ormsby wrote. “What community do you represent as the Missouri Attorney General? Do you represent all citizens of Missouri? Or only the white citizens?”

Ormsby also questioned Bailey’s interest in the Hazelwood assault, but not several other cases of violence against students from nearby districts.

Hazelwood School District is about 95% Black and less than 2% white, according to state education department data. The races of the victim and a 15-year-old girl who was arrested for assault have not been released.

Associated Press calls and emails to the family attorney of the hospitalized girl were not immediately returned. The 15-year-old has not been named by police because she is a juvenile.

Issues with school resource officers in Hazelwood schools began in 2021, when the district tried to require police to attend 10 hours of diversity, equity and inclusion training to work at the schools.

Police chiefs from St. Louis County, Florissant and Hazelwood sent a letter to the school board in June of that year saying police “receive training that is more than adequate and addresses the critical matters of diversity, equity, and inclusion.”

No deal was reached between police and the schools, prompting the district to hire 60 private security guards to replace the school resource officers.

Hazelwood police later returned to some of the district's buildings as school resource officers. But Florissant and St. Louis County police never reached an agreement with the school district.

In a letter requesting documents from Hazelwood about the student fight, Bailey wrote that “the absence of SROs on the scene is directly attributable to Hazelwood's insistence on prioritizing race-based policies over basic student safety.”

Ormsby said school resource officers “would not have prevented a fight from occurring off school property and outside of the school day.”

A spokesperson for Bailey did not immediately comment on Ormsby’s letter Tuesday.

Hazelwood spokeswoman Jordyn Elston said in a statement that the school district “does not prioritize DEI initiatives at the expense of student safety" and believes the programs help student safety and learning.

“These values are not negotiable," Elston said, "and we will continue to prioritize them in all aspects of our work as community leaders.”

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