Student’s Race Discrimination Claim Was Properly Dismissed

The student sued Austin Independent School District, alleging racial discrimination by other students. The trial court dismissed the suit, and the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal. The student alleged twelve separate incidents but only three went to a bench trial.

The first occurred when band students awarded the student the “Sass-quatch” Award at the band banquet. The award read: “For being one of the absolute sassiest members of the Front Ensemble. There is no denying your impressive ability to make any other member of the [Front Ensemble] either jealous or enraged at your ability to make split-second savage remarks. Great job, what a [feat].” While the student found this offensive, they did not report their concerns to the district.

The second form of discrimination involved reports that a fellow Future Farmers of America (FFA) student used a racial slur. The incident occurred during freshman year at the FFA auction. According to the student’s parent, she overheard vulgar language including racial slurs. The parent confronted several students, who responded by calling her a “bitch.”  The district court found that neither the student nor her teacher overheard the students’ comments.

The third incident involved the presence of racist graffiti in a school restroom and on the door to the barn used by FFA. However, neither teachers nor administrators saw or received reports of these incidents of graffiti.

The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed dismissal of the student’s race discrimination suit. The district was not deliberately indifferent as to the “Sass-quatch” award because the district lacked actual knowledge of the student’s concerns. As for the reported uses of racial slurs by FFA students, the court determined the district was not deliberately indifferent because the student herself did not hear the slur used. Finally, the district was not deliberately indifferent to the graffiti because, even assuming that the graffiti by itself was actionable, the district did not have actual knowledge of it.

Finding no error in the dismissal of the student’s suit, the appeals court affirmed the findings that the district was not deliberately indifferent with respect to any of the student’s alleged incidents, whether considered singularly or collectively.  The case is Sneed v. Austin ISD, Dkt. No. 21-50966 (October 4, 2022).

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