Agreement Reached to Combat Racial Harassment in Tennessee Schools

The Justice Department secures a settlement with Hawkins County Schools to address racial harassment.

The Justice Department announced today a settlement agreement with Hawkins County Schools in Tennessee to resolve its investigation into allegations of race-based harassment and other discrimination targeting Black students.

The investigation, conducted jointly by the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Tennessee, found that incidents of harassment — including a mock “slave auction” to sell Black students to their white counterparts, white students’ repeated and open use of the N-word, and a “monkey of the month” campaign to ridicule Black students — collectively created a racially hostile environment. Although the district took steps to acknowledge some of the harassment, their response was not sufficient to protect the Constitutional rights of Black students.

“No student should endure mock slave auctions or racial slurs meant to invoke a shameful period in our country’s history when Black people were treated as subhuman,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “Racial harassment undermines a student’s ability to feel safe, eliminates any hope for fostering a supportive educational environment, and violates the Constitution’s most basic promise of equal protection. The Justice Department remains committed to protecting the civil rights of all students and will ensure that Hawkins County Schools takes all actions necessary to end racial discrimination in its schools.”

“To protect our children and cultivate a successful learning environment, our schools must take complaints of racial harassment and discrimination with the utmost seriousness and address them promptly and effectively,” said U.S. Attorney Francis M. Hamilton III for the Eastern District of Tennessee. “The U.S. Attorney’s Office commends the Hawkins County Board of Education for cooperating in the department’s investigation and working to improve its response to complaints of racial harassment and discrimination by reaching a resolution that enhances protections for both students’ constitutional rights and their dignity.”

The department opened its investigation in March 2023 under Titles IV and VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The district fully cooperated during the investigation and readily pursued an agreement to address the department’s findings. Under the agreement, Hawkins County Schools will implement significant reforms, including:

– Hiring a compliance officer to oversee the effective resolution of race discrimination and harassment complaints;

– Retaining a consultant to support the school district in implementing the agreement and creating a discrimination-free learning environment for all;

– Creating a new electronic reporting portal to track and manage complaints and the district’s response to complaints;

– Updating its racial harassment and school discipline policies to more accurately track and consistently respond to complaints of race-based harassment;

– Training staff on how to identify, investigate and respond to complaints of racial harassment and discriminatory discipline practices;

– Informing students and parents of how to report harassment and discrimination;

– Implementing listening sessions, school climate surveys, training, and educational events on identifying and preventing race discrimination, including discriminatory harassment; and

– Analyzing discipline data and amending policies to ensure non-discriminatory enforcement of discipline policies.

Protecting students from harassment and other discrimination is a top priority of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. Additional information about the Civil Rights Division is available at, and additional information about the work of the Educational Opportunities Section is available at

Members of the public may report possible civil rights violations at

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Settlement Reached with Tennessee School District Over Racial Discrimination

The Justice Department has settled with Hawkins County Schools in Tennessee following an investigation that confirmed incidents of racial harassment against Black students. The district will implement various measures to protect students’ rights and prevent future discrimination.