Cold Spring family sues ROCORI School District, says it did not address racism, harassment

COLD SPRING — A Cold Spring family that has been the target of racial harassment for years, including six months ago when a vehicle with a piece of granite on the accelerator drove into their house, filed a federal lawsuit last week against the ROCORI school district.

Andrea Robinson, filing on behalf of two of her children who no longer attend ROCORI schools, accuses the school district of violating her children's civil rights by "deliberate indifference and failure to respond to multiple acts of racial harassment and discrimination directed at [her children] by both students and staff."

The lawsuit, which cites Title VI and Title IX of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, says the district failed "to respond to reported student-on-student bullying" related to her children's race and sexual orientation, court documents said.

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Title VI prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color or national origin in any program or activity that receives federal funding or other financial assistance. Title IX prohibits discrimination based on sex, sexual orientation and gender identity under any educational program or activity receiving federal funding or financial assistance.

The family is seeking compensation for economic, physical and emotional losses, attorney fees and court costs.

ROCORI Schools Superintendent Brad Kelvington told the St. Cloud Times on Friday that the district has no comment at this time regarding the lawsuit.

When asked about the result of a school board investigation into the allegations of racism and discrimination that Robinson said should have been made public around Thanksgiving, Kelvington again said there was no comment at this time.

Andrea and Phil Robinson reflect on the recent attack on their home Tuesday, Aug. 17, 2021, in Cold Spring.
Andrea and Phil Robinson reflect on the recent attack on their home Tuesday, Aug. 17, 2021, in Cold Spring.

"The complaint speaks for itself. But Andrea, on behalf of her children, tried everything possible to get justice for her kids at the ROCORI school district, and it clearly became obvious that it was going to be futile," said Paul Kinne, the Robinsons' lead council. "So the only choice she had at this point was to turn to the courts to try to get some justice for them. And she hopes that the process will lead to meaningful change at ROCORI school and a result that compensates her family for everything they've had to endure."

Kinne said Robinson tried talking with the district many times and submitted a complaint to a state administrative body, but "it was obvious these approaches were not going to be fruitful" so she decided to "finally go to court."

'Racially hostile environment' at school

According to the lawsuit, the family reported racial bullying to teachers and administrators numerous times starting in the 2015-2016 school year, but the district "failed to take any meaningful action" and "was deliberately indifferent in its response to the racially hostile environment."

Due to the harassment and "racially hostile education environment at ROCORI" Robinson's children struggled academically in school and with their mental health to the point where one child attempted suicide, court documents said.

The Robinsons felt the need to transfer to another school district because the children "did not feel safe," documents say.

Numerous officials at ROCORI School District "had actual notice that [the children] were subjected to an objectively offensive racially hostile educational environment for years" and "by continuously disregarding the racial harassment, or failing to reasonably intervene to prevent it, RSD intentionally allowed the racially hostile educational environment to occur, and/or it was deliberately indifferent to it in violation of Title VI," the documents said.

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Phil and Andrea Robinson talk about recent repairs to their home Wednesday, Jan. 19, 2022, in Cold Spring.
Phil and Andrea Robinson talk about recent repairs to their home Wednesday, Jan. 19, 2022, in Cold Spring.

Over the course of many years, the lawsuit said, the children were called racial slurs by students, often in the presence of teachers and other classmates who did not intervene. Rumors and threats against them were also documented on social media and brought to the district's attention, the lawsuit contends.

"Racial bullying was so prevalent, it was more of the norm, than uncommon," the complaint said.

Among the arguments made in the lawsuit, to support the Robinson's contention of a lack of response was that a student who allegedly racially and sexually harassed one of Robinson' children and made lynching threats via Snapchat was recognized with a "ROCORI Proud" award after the school district received evidence of the harrassment. ROCORI Proud awards are given to students who embody the school's mission and values in action, the complaint said.

After Robinson complained, she was told notice of the award would be removed from the district's website but that the student would be allowed to keep the award.

Becca Most is a cities reporter with the St. Cloud Times. Reach her at 320-241-8213 or Follow her on Twitter at @becca_most.

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This article originally appeared on St. Cloud Times: Cold Spring family sues ROCORI for failing to stop racist harassment