A black 17-year-old in the tiny town of Baraboo, Wisconsin, alleges that her former school district routinely ignored complaints of racist taunts, violence, and sexual assault, causing her severe psychological trauma that forced her to change schools.
Dasia Banks’ 30-page complaint was filed in federal court on Wednesday and contends that teachers and school officials failed to stop violent and racist bullying and exhibited “deliberate indifference” to the problem when faced with complaints. The suit was previously reported by Wisconsin State Journal, and was sure to bring fresh scrutiny to a district previously embroiled in scandal over a viral photo of students giving a Nazi salute.
Dasia and her mother, Megan Ray, cite a laundry list of alleged incidents over several years, including students wearing Confederate flags and using the n-word, shoving Dasia in the hallway, throwing things at her, leaving threatening notes in her locker, and repeated sexual abuse in class.
“I voiced my opinion and stood up for myself, but it got to the point where it just felt like there was no point in me saying anything,” Dasia told The Daily Beast on Thursday.
At least until now.
“I want to be the one controlling my story,” Dasia said. (The Daily Beast does not identify victims of sexual assault without their express consent.)
Baraboo School Board member Tim Heilman told the State Journal that the board has “very, very little information” on the allegations, and administrator Lori Mueller told The Daily Beast on Thursday: “At this time, the School District of Baraboo has not been served a lawsuit. If the district receives one, we would not comment without reviewing and seeking advice from legal counsel.”
About an hour northwest of Madison, the school made headlines in 2018 after a group of boys were photographed giving a Nazi salute. (When that incident became public, Mueller said the photo was “not reflective of the educational values and beliefs of the School District of Baraboo,” and that it planned to “pursue any and all available and appropriate actions, including legal, to address” the incident.”)
But Dasia’s story of abuse and harassment starts years earlier.
In her federal civil-rights complaint, she says she felt discrimination even as a first-grader at Baraboo, where classmates allegedly teased her about her hair and the color of her skin.
During her elementary, middle, and high school years, she was repeatedly called the n-word, which was “ubiquitous” at the school district, the lawsuit alleges. Both Dasia and her mother heard the word used “on a daily basis,” they said.
When someone stuffed a note in Dasia’s locker, calling her a “n-----” and a “slut,” an administrator said “there was nothing that could be done because there were no cameras in the locker room, and he was not going to look through hours of video to narrow down the suspects,” according to the complaint.
The lawsuit further claims that a “Gangsta Night” at a volleyball game involved white students at the high school dressed up as racist stereotypes. An administrator told Dasia’s mother, who according to the suit worked at the district and endured racial slurs herself, “there was nothing the school could do about it because it came from the students,” the lawsuit claims.
When she was a sophomore, Dasia overheard one conversation in the hallway, where a student allegedly asked his friend: “Is it a hate crime if you slap a black girl?”
“Everyone in the group laughed, and [she] was terrified,” the lawsuit claims. “The following week, Banks did not go to school at all.”
Another student allegedly called her a “cotton picker.” Yet another white student purportedly called her a “n-----” on Snapchat, and still another allegedly wrote in a separate post: “I find it stupid how black people get all offended when people call them ‘n------’ but then when black people cal [sic] white people ‘white trash’ it’s all okay like duh.”
That same year, the complaint alleges, Dasia was repeatedly sexually assaulted in class by a white student, also a minor, who her lawyers told The Daily Beast was later convicted of sexual assault in that case and sentenced to one year of probation and a required assignment of writing an eight-page essay on sexual assault and consent.
That student allegedly slapped or rubbed Dasia’s butt during class, exposed himself, cupped her breast, and tried to grind on her with an erection, and—while laughing—ignored her pleas for him to stop.
Dasia and her mother “have done their best to document the racial incidents,” they said, but suggested the sheer volume made it difficult to know if they had left any out. According to the suit, the mother, Ray, resigned from a job at the district in February 2018 because she became “exhausted by [the district’s] failure to either address or end its racially hostile educational environment.”
“This is the worst feeling a parent can go through,” Ray told The Daily Beast. “I watched her go from this amazing, compassionate young lady, and she just kind of turned hard. Her heart has been hardened. She doesn’t believe in anybody anymore. Now, she’s got her voice back. And she’s ready to use it for good.”
The alleged assaults, harassment, and bullying “were so severe and objectively offensive” that they deprived Dasia of access to her right to an education and caused her permanent psychological and emotional harm, the lawsuit says. The family has asked for a jury trial and is seeking unspecified monetary compensation “for all economic and emotional losses” they’ve allegedly suffered over the years.
“I’ve been screaming this at the top of my lungs since she was in first grade,” said Ray. “I’m very proud of Dasia. We don’t want this to happen to other families.”
Moving forward, Dasia, who said she excels in math and science, said her dream is to attend University of Wisconsin Oshkosh and study to become a neonatal nurse practitioner.
Ultimately, switching schools has helped her move forward, and her new teachers “know everything” and have been supportive of her recovery, she added.
Dasia and her mother were hoping for meaningful consequences for the alleged offenders and for more education on racism at Baraboo, they said.
“I went to that school myself,” said Ray. “I’m African-American. I grew up in the ‘70s and ‘80s, and I did not get any of the harassment or anything that Dasia has endured. Somewhere, somehow, things completely changed. The culture changed.”