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FC Schools faces lawsuit claiming racial discrimination

One Phil Campbell parent has filed a case with the Northern District of Alabama District Court against the Franklin County Board of Education and two administrators for “relief from discrimination.”

Brandi Gholston, who is also a Franklin County Schools employee, filed a lawsuit naming the Franklin County Board of Education, Superintendent Greg Hamilton, former Phil Campbell High School Principal Gary Odom and current Phil Campbell High School Principal Darit Riddle for allegedly not taking action to protect her son from racial harassment.

“We didn’t bring this case lightly,” said Gholston’s attorney Hank Sherrod. “This isn’t just about her child but about doing right by children who ought to be able to count on school officials.”

The student, named in the suit as MG, attended Phil Campbell High School in seventh and eighth grade in the 2017-18 and 2018-19 school years, until his parents pulled him out of Phil Campbell High School.

The lawsuit states that although racial slurs and harassment occurred on a near daily basis, the first big event occurred in October 2017, when MG got into a fight in the lunchroom with a white student.

According to the lawsuit, although video footage showed both students were equally involved, MG received 3.5 days of in-school suspension, while the white student was not punished.

In November 2017, MG was allegedly called “a stupid N-word” and told he should be working in the cotton field. After MG’s parents informed Riddle, who was the vice principal at this time, of the situation, Riddle allegedly told MG to report any more harassment to him, and he would handle it.

The next day MG reported teammates on the basketball team using racial slurs toward him to Riddle, who allegedly told MG if he was going to be a troublemaker, then he did not belong on the basketball team.

According to the suit, during December 2017, MG’s teammates allegedly played the song “Alabama N-word” in the locker room. This incident was reported to Riddle, but the song continued to play for the rest of the season.

In another incident noted in the suit, in March 2018 when a teacher played the movie “42” in her class, students allegedly pointed and laughed at MG when the movie said the n-word. When MG looked to the teacher for help, the teacher allegedly joined the students laughing.

This incident was reported to Riddle, Odom and Hamilton, but allegedly no action was

taken to remedy the situation.

In November 2018, what the lawsuit refers to as the worst incident of racial harassment, students allegedly threw basketballs at MG and subjected him to racial slurs, and one student allegedly showed students a picture of a noose saying he was going to hang MG.

After MG’s parents found out about this incident from other parents, they allegedly informed all three defendants of the incident, but the student was allegedly allowed to return to class without a report being filed with the police.

“We certainly don’t believe school officials in any way supported these racist actions by the students,” Sherrod said. “We just think they didn’t necessarily understand their legal obligations to protect the students.”

Gholston is suing for injury and damage to MG, including emotional distress, embarrassment, humiliation, anxiety and concern.

She is seeking appropriate declaratory and injunctive relief, compensatory damages, punitive damages against the individual defendants, prejudgement and postjudgement interest at the highest rates allowed by the law, costs, expert witness fees, reasonable attorney fees and further relief to which plaintiff is justly entitled.

Gholston is still employed at Phil Campbell High School, but MG is no longer a student within the Franklin County Schools system.