Student claims discrimination, may sue Lake Oswego school district

Civic Affairs

Two attorneys say they intend to sue LOSD for not properly responding to student's discrimination complaints

File: Lakeridge High School in Lake Oswego, Oregon (Bentoman / Wikimedia Commons).

PORTLAND, Oregon (KOIN) — Two lawyers say they intend to file a lawsuit on behalf of a student who allegedly faced racial discrimination at Lake Oswego School District, including being cyberbullied and called a racial slur, and that district administrators did not investigate the incidents or give proper support to the student.

Current Oregon state Sen. Rob Wagner, who was the school board chair, is named as a defendant along with LOSD in the forthcoming suit, of which a court document claiming the student has cause of action due to civil rights violation was filed Tuesday in state district court in Multnomah County.

The student, who is unnamed due to being a minor, is being represented by attorneys Michael Fuller and Kim Sordyl.

In a press release sent to KOIN 6 News by Fuller, Sordyl described Lake Oswego schools as “hotbeds of racism” where largely white leadership “engage in performative allyship while covering up a deeply racist culture.”

The student had been allegedly razed for “frizzy hair, which was made into a meme by his own teammates,” the press release said. The student was allegedly called the n-word and told at one point to “sit in a dog crate.”

LOSD Superintendent Dr. Lora de la Cruz, who was also named as a defendant in the claim, is accused of being one of many leaders at the school with whom the student’s parent sought help for dealing with the discrimination. The parent also went to a counselor, a coach, a principal, and others for help but none took action, according to the attorneys.

The statement said school officials failed to address “the sustained pattern of race discrimination,” violating the district’s own race discrimination policies. Instead, they allegedly “hushed away” grave complaints from victims.

“The use of buzzwords in Lake Oswego like ‘equity’ and ‘inclusion’ do little to soothe the
pain and discomfort experienced by our client,” Fuller said.

The attorneys claim in one instance the student was called into Assistant Principal Noah Hurd’s office without notifying their parents. After the student cried, Hurd allegedly told the student to not talk to anyone about the race discrimination.

The student then sought on April 30, 2020, to apply to graduate a year early because of the alleged discrimination, harassment and retaliation. On May 1, 2020, Lakeridge High School Principal Desiree Fisher recommended the student leave LHS, the statement said.

In addition, the attorneys allege the school board, under the leadership of Sen. Rob Wagner as its chair, approved the student’s request to double up on distance learning to get out of the district a year early on May 11, 2020. But there was no investigation into the students complaints nor any other additional support offered for the student, the release said.

The case is but one piece of an overall alleged “pervasive racist culture in certain Oregon schools,” the statement said.

Wagner stepped down from his position at Lake Oswego School District Board on June 22 citing the demands of being the recently chosen Senate majority leader as the reason. KOIN 6 News reached out to Wagner’s office for comment and they gave the following response:

“My understanding is the district is taking the allegation seriously, and I would refer all other questions about the lawsuit to the district. I couldn’t be more proud of having had the opportunity to serve my community of Lake Oswego. I don’t know the individual, I hope they are getting the support and care they deserve, but I’m unfamiliar with the context behind the suit.”

KOIN 6 News reached out to LOSD for a response. A spokesperson for the district said they will not comment on the specifics of any investigation.

However they said that LOSD is committed to being “an anti-racist organization.” They cited an LOSD Anti-Racism Resolution approved by the school board in June of 2020, which the spokesperson said “prioritizes the internal work of eradicating systemic racism, in all its forms, in all instruction and operation to cultivate a culture of belonging.”

In addition, the district said it hired an Equity and Family Engagement Teacher; created a multi-year professional development plan for administrators; is actively partnering with members of the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Advisory Committee; introducing new literature in schools that reflect diverse cultures and build identity; and adopted a social-emotional learning curriculum, among other measures.

Below is the Petition for Appointment of Guardian Ad Litem filed with state district court in Multnomah County, which Fuller said is the first step in the process of filing a lawsuit. He said he expects the lawsuit itself will be filed in the next three weeks.

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