Rights of black HS student who took his own life were violated, report finds


An Iron Range high school student who took his own life in August had been the victim of bullying and as a result was denied educational benefits because of his race, violating the Minnesota Human Rights Act, the Minnesota Department of Human Rights found.

For four months during the 2012-13 school year, bullies at Greenway High School are accused of calling Isaiah Gatimu racial slurs, blocking him from the "white" drinking fountain, hitting him with a toy whip and threatening to "hang you like your ancestors," the Star Tribune said. In August 2014, days before a mediation hearing on these allegations, the 19-year-old took his own life.

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Gatimu's mother and her attorney say his death is directly linked to the school's lack of response to the racial-based bullying he endured before he changed schools, the Forum News Service reported.

And last month, the Minnesota Department of Human Rights determined probable cause exists that Gatimu was subjected to unfair and illegal discriminatory practices, which violate the state Human Rights Act, the Scenic Range News Forum reports.

The department called the abuse "severe and pervasive," finding the school violated its policies because several school employees who were told of the abuse failed to investigate and keep records of the reported incidents, as well as prevent future incidents, the publication says.

Since Gatimu's death, his mother and her attorney have contemplated a harassment-and-discrimination lawsuit, reports say.

Aaron Brown, who writes the blog Minnesota Brown, says following this report, the school district "will have a major reckoning ... including a probable settlement that will sock this fiscally troubled district right between the eyes."

Brown, who recently wrote about racial problems on the Iron Range, also questioned what the Greenway community will do if more incidents of bullying are reported. Forum reported the high school has seen some changes since Gatimu's death – the school's former principal quit and there is a new principal who has placed emphasis on "providing a safe climate on campus."

The Hibbing Daily Tribune outlined what the school's new principal is doing to prevent future bullying incidents.

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