CINCINNATI — The parents of four black students who allege their children were expelled over rap music videos and targeted because of race sued a suburban school district in federal court on Tuesday, charging violations of constitutional rights including free speech.
Attorney Robert Newman, representing the parents, said that the students were expelled from Colerain High School in Colerain Township, a 20-minute drive northwest of Cincinnati, for making rap music videos off campus and that black students were unfairly targeted. The parents’ lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in Cincinnati against the Northwest Local School District, the Colerain Township Board of Trustees, members of both groups’ boards and some police officers.
A school district statement said the lawsuit contains inaccurate information. An attorney representing the township didn’t immediately return a call seeking comment on Tuesday.
School officials and police officers interrogated black students about their recent social media postings and affiliations with other black youths and showed them photos collected by school staff and police from social media websites, the lawsuit says. The photos showed the students making various hand signs or participating in rap music videos, it says.
“Based on these images, school administrators accused more than a dozen African-American students of making ‘street signs’ and belonging to a ‘gang,’” the lawsuit states.
Newman said white students involved in similar conduct weren’t disciplined.
“This case is about racial stereotyping,” he said.
The district’s attorney, John Concannon, said 14 students were suspended and recommended for expulsion on April 10 primarily for threats made at school and in social media against students or staff. He said black and white students were disciplined and all were welcomed back to school. Newman said one student transferred to another school.
Concannon said disciplinary actions weren’t gang-related or about rap music videos.
“This is about reasonable school rules that were violated in a serious way,” he said.
Concannon didn’t specify what rules were violated, but the district’s statement said the violations “were severely interfering with the school operation and threatened the safety of some students.”
The lawsuit wants expulsions expunged from the students’ records and unspecified punitive and compensatory damages.