Lawsuit: Tennessee High School Dropped the Ball on Racial Bullying

The mother of a female student who claims she was a victim of racial bullying at Hendersonville High School in Tennessee during the 2012-13 academic school year filed a lawsuit against the Sumner County Board of Education this week.

“It’s painful seeing your child come home and explain to you that they’ve been discriminated against,” said Dr. Wanda Rice.

Shannon Rice, then a freshman member of the school’s basketball team, said she no longer wanted to play her favorite sport because of how team members would treat her.

Rice said she told her coach, who did nothing to stop the harassment.  According to Rice, the coaches would sometimes be nearby, and “would just act like they didn’t hear or they’d laugh”, reports Julia Bruck for WSMV.  Rice recalled one instance where an assistant coach told her “black people should wear socks to the beach because of how their toes look.”

According to the lawsuit, Rice said she was “singled out and targeted by some of the white female students and/or teammates” who would physically harass her during practices and games.

“She came home with busted lips, bruised ribs,” said Wanda Rice. “‘Can we call you the n-word?’ ‘It stinks in here.’ Another student would say ‘What does it smell like?’ The response would be ‘it smells like black people.’”

Rice was dismissed from the team last winter for a lack of “spirit and leadership”.  After that, her mother began homeschooling her.  Although Rice no longer attends the school, her mother said she brought on the lawsuit to protect other students from facing a similar fate.

“That’s not something that you can cover up anymore, not anybody that can cover up because out here, it was going on and it’s got to stop,” she said.

The two coaches named by Rice are no longer employed by Hendersonville High School.  Former head coach Amy Wilhite resigned last week when she was offered employment outside of the school system.  According to Sumner County Schools spokesman Jeremy Johnson, the employment changes are merely a coincidence.

“None of those decisions were related to any of these lawsuits,” Johnson said.

A similar situation involving the school arose this past May, when the family of another girl on the basketball team stated their daughter was a victim of racial bullying.

According to website Public School Review, Hendersonville High School had 1,491 students in 2012, of which 85% were white and 8% were black.

A third lawsuit within the school district was filed in April by a family of a student at Portland High School, who claimed their son was “the victim of an ongoing pattern of teacher-on-student racially motivated harassment and bullying.”

The attorney for Sumner County Schools cited the school’s anti-discrimination policies in a prepared statement, and said a thorough investigation was taking place, writes Josh Cross for The Tennessean.  All allegations have been denied.

“The idea that these three separate claims are a pattern ignores the reality of the facts,” Presnell said. “We are dealing with two different schools with different administrations and three different families over two different school years. Our School Board has anti-discrimination policies that we enforce strictly, and when claims arise we investigate thoroughly and appropriate action is taken when necessary.”