A principal at Whittier Elementary School found a white student made a discriminatory comment to a Black student. The family of the white student then sued the district for "unfair and selectively enforced disciplinary processes, and other discrimination on the basis of race." Credit: John Herrick

The Boulder Valley School District has agreed to pay $32,500 to the family of a white student that sued the school district for allegedly violating the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964, according to a settlement agreement. 

The financial settlement, which will be paid for by the district’s insurer, does not require approval from the seven-member Board of Education, according to a school district spokesperson. The agreement dismisses all claims in the lawsuit, and neither party admits any wrongdoing. 

The agreement, which was provided to Boulder Reporting Lab on Tuesday, June 20, through an open records request, appears to mark an end to a lawsuit that highlighted the racial dynamics of student discipline and resulted in two parents removing their children from Whittier International Elementary School during the last school year. 

In March 2023, a white family sued the district in U.S. District Court after a principal at Whittier Elementary determined that their child made discriminatory remarks to two Black students, according to court records. During a school recess, the white fourth-grade student asked the Black students to “be his servants and body guards,” the court records state. 

The principal’s findings, documented in an official BVSD investigation report, were maintained as part of the student’s disciplinary record. In the lawsuit, the family’s attorneys alleged that the child’s disciplinary records “falsely condemn him as guilty of bullying and racial harassment” and left his “educational future in a state of uncertainty.” The lawyers also alleged that the district ignored the family’s complaints of bullying by a Black student and by the student’s mother, and “selectively enforced disciplinary processes, and other discrimination on the basis of race.” 

See also: Boulder Valley School District nears settlement over discrimination lawsuit

In response to the lawsuit, the district has defended its policies and procedures for student discipline — which historically have disadvantaged Black and Latino students — and vigorously denied the allegations in the complaint. 

As part of the settlement agreement, the district agreed to remove the principal’s investigation report from the white student’s record. 

Boulder Reporting Lab called Jennifer Leahy, one of the family members involved in the lawsuit, and left a message. A lawyer for the family that filed the lawsuit instructed Boulder Reporting Lab not to contact the family.

Randy Barber, a spokesman for the Boulder Valley School District, wrote in an email to Boulder Reporting Lab that the settlement “was not an easy decision.” 

“Settling this lawsuit now will enable the school involved to begin the healing process and start the next school year without the specter of litigation,” Barber wrote. “The district believes every student should learn and grow in a safe and welcoming environment. BVSD will continue to invest in training and programming to root out discrimination, investigate allegations of bullying or harassment thoroughly and appropriately, and reduce disproportionately in student discipline and achievement.” 

The settlement states that “this agreement shall not take effect unless and until it is approved by a majority of the Boulder Valley School District RE-2 Board of Education.” It was signed by president of the board, Kathy Gebhardt, on June 12. During last week’s board meeting, members adjourned for summer break. 

Though it appears unlikely it will be put to a larger vote, at least one board member said she would not support an agreement that included a payout to the family. “I think this is the sort of thing that is worth fighting in court,” Lisa Sweeney-Miran, the vice president of the school board, told Boulder Reporting Lab after the settlement was released on Tuesday. 

Sweeney-Miran said the Black mother at the center of the lawsuit, Jamillah Richmond, a member of several parent groups and advocate for reforming the district’s student discipline policies, has been a “exemplary volunteer and employee for the district.” 

“We owe our families of color a much clearer message than this — that we will always stand with them and that we always have their backs,” Sweeney-Miran said.

The principal, Sarah Oswick, who was also named in the lawsuit, submitted paperwork for her resignation in January 2023 and has since been replaced. 

John Herrick is senior reporter for Boulder Reporting Lab, covering housing, transportation, policing and local government. He previously covered the state Capitol for The Colorado Independent and environmental policy for VTDigger.org. He is interested in stories about people, power and fairness. Email: john@boulderreportinglab.org.

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1 Comment

  1. Has anyone here in the BVSD heard of restorative justice? It seems to me that $32,500 doesn’t really teach or solve anything. Just a thought. Thank you.

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