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Three Black Waukee high school students were told to ride home from a 2021 band trip in the back of a school bus after a white parent chaperone allegedly instigated an altercation with them that turned physical, according to a recently filed lawsuit and other documents.
The incident with the Northwest High School students followed a September 2021 marching band competition in Omaha, Nebraska, according to a letter penned by the attorney of one student who is suing the school district.
The letter — sent to the district’s superintendent in December 2021 — alleges the parent volunteer was perturbed that the students had gone to the bus before the competition’s awards ceremony had concluded because it was “disgraceful to their teammates.”
However, the students had gathered with two white students on the bus with the permission of the school’s band director and instrumental music teacher, the letter said. The students were members of the band’s color guard.
The parent volunteer told the students to get off the bus, dismissed the white students from the conversation, and, along with another white parent who joined a bit later, confronted the remaining Black students.
When one of the students attempted to leave the conversation to find the band director, one of the parents allegedly grabbed him by the arm to prevent his departure. That led to a heated exchange between the now-former student who filed the lawsuit — Bailey Hilson, then a high school senior — and the parent who had allegedly grabbed the other student.
The parent “responded by ‘getting in the face’ of Bailey, shouting at her, and thumping her in the forehead with her finger,” wrote Jerry Foxhoven, the Des Moines attorney who represents Hilson.
The parent could not be reached to comment for this article, but an investigative report produced by the school district said the woman denied touching the students.
The woman admitted to waving a finger in Hilson’s face, the report said. She alleged Hilson was using profanity and saying hateful things.
The band instructor and instrumental music teacher intervened a short time later, and the Black students asked to be moved from the bus for the ride back to Waukee because the parent volunteers would be on it.
“This mature and reasonable request was denied, and the three Black students were instructed to ‘sit in the back of the bus’ and not interact with the adults on the way home,” Foxhoven wrote. “This direction … created a pathetic scene reminiscent of our nation’s history of segregation in public transportation. The students, left with no other choice, followed instructions.”
A ‘sham’ investigation
The lawsuit alleges that a school district investigation into the incident was too focused on the students’ conduct and that the district’s actions thereafter did not adequately address — and perhaps exacerbated — the emotional distress of Hilson.
Assistant Principal Christie Pitts conducted the investigation and concluded that the parent volunteer had grabbed or touched two students, and someone at the district notified the Waukee Police Department of the alleged physical contact.
The woman was barred from volunteering at the high school and from attending at least one home football game, according to Foxhoven’s letter. The district further pledged to have a “restorative conversation” with the students and to reevaluate the requirements for its parent volunteers. It sent a message to band students and their families that said “the students involved were not at fault.”
“We regret the breakdown in the system that led to this event,” said the message, which was signed by the school’s two band directors. “You can be assured that we are taking proactive steps with administration to help ensure that such an incident does not happen again.”
Amy Varcoe, a spokesperson for the school district, declined to comment specifically on the allegations contained in the lawsuit but said the district “strongly denies” them.
“Waukee Community School District maintains a strong commitment to a safe and collaborative environment for all students,” she said.
It’s unclear whether the police department investigated the incident. The department did not immediately respond to a request for information about a potential investigation, nor does it have jurisdiction over an alleged assault that might have been committed in another state.
The school district investigation’s findings largely align with the timeline of events that are detailed in Foxhoven’s letter. A video surveillance recording from the bus showed that one of the white students who was allowed to leave at the start of the altercation had only been briefly on the bus. The other white student who was dismissed from the altercation had been with the Black students for the duration of their time on the bus, the investigative report said.
That white student called the parent volunteers “racist bigots” on the bus ride back to Waukee, the report said.
The lawsuit called the school district investigation a sham, in part, because it ignored the potential racial aspects of the incident. It further claimed that the district gave improper support to the parent volunteers by investigating a bullying complaint one of them subsequently made against Hilson.
A school investigation into that complaint found that there was an ongoing “substantial student conflict” between the volunteer’s child and Hilson as a result of the band trip, Foxhoven’s letter said.
The lawsuit was filed last month after Hilson lodged a complaint against the district with the Iowa Civil Rights Commission in July.
The commission issued Hilson a right-to-sue letter in September, which is required for lawsuits in state district court that allege violations of the Iowa Civil Rights Act.
The lawsuit names the school district, Superintendent Brad Buck and former Principal Fairouz Bishara-Rantisi as defendants, but not the parent volunteers. It seeks an unspecified amount of money to compensate Hilson for her suffering that resulted from the district’s alleged racial discrimination and a reimbursement for attorneys’ fees.
The lawsuit says Hilson “suffered severe emotional distress, causing her to miss school, struggle with depression and feel isolated and unsupported at school, causing her to miss the true joy normally experienced by a student in their senior year of high school.”
The school district has yet to file a response to the lawsuit in district court. There are no other pending lawsuits from the other students against the district, according to state and federal court records.
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But restoring voters' faith in mail-in voting may take years, if the GOP effort is effective at all. Trump and his allies have repeatedly echoed falsehoods about voter fraud and stoked fears around absentee ballots.
The former president has promoted the widely discredited film "2000 Mules", which alleged widespread voter fraud in the last presidential election.
"Republican states are rightly taking steps to ensure elections are safe and secure," a Republican strategist who worked on the Georgia midterm election told Politico. "Our problem now is a messaging and operational one. We start by throwing out the Trump B.S. lies and telling people the truth about their votes and the power of their vote. Who would have imagined telling people, 'the election is rigged' and then asking them to vote wouldn't work?"
Now, some Republicans are hoping to undo his mess and tout a different message around mail-in voting to restore voters' trust.
Sen. Raphael Warnock, D-Ga., won early voters by about 16 percentage points, entering Election Day with a 300,000 vote lead, CBS News reported. He also earned 64% of the absentee mail vote and almost 58 percent of the early vote, according to the secretary of state's office.
"Our voters need to vote early," RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said on Fox News. "There were many in 2020 saying, 'don't vote by mail, don't vote early', and we have to stop that, and understand that if Democrats are getting ballots in for a month, we can't expect to get it all done in one day."
Republicans had predicted a "red wave" for months before the midterms. But once it failed to materialize, several allies of Trump turned against him and blamed him for candidates underperforming.
Trump as recently as last week disparaged early voting and voting by mail, posting on Truth Social: "you can never have fair & free elections with mail-in ballots--never, never, never. Won't and can't happen!!!"
Herschel Walker's failure in the pivotal Georgia Senate race came as the last blow, finally convincing Republican operatives and lawmakers to issue a wake-up call to their party persuading them to take early voting seriously.
"[P]eople are awakening to it, even the Trumpistas," GOP strategist Karl Rove, who runs RITE, told Politico. "It's a sad commentary that we have to do that and there is resistance. He's creating a class of people who may for a long time believe the elections are stolen as long as there's a presence of mail-in ballots, and that causes people to say my vote doesn't count, I don't need to bother to vote."
Even Fox News hosts, who have repeatedly echoed Trump's claims about mail-in and early voting, are shifting their stance.
When the Georgia runoff elections showed Walker was likely going to lose, Fox News host Sean Hannity asked House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., about the "reluctance some Republicans" have "about voting early and voting by mail," adding it was "too big of a margin for Republicans to always have to make up". McCarthy agreed: "You're exactly right."
Fellow Fox host Laura Ingraham grew frustrated while interviewing Kellyanne Conway, former counselor to Trump, who said if Republicans don't "bank ballots early, we're going to keep losing."
"How come we didn't?" Ingraham asked. "We didn't do it in 2020, because everyone said, 'Don't vote early, because that's corrupt.'" She went on to say that "a lot of people at the top of the Republican Party" echoed this sentiment, which ultimately impacted Republican candidates.
While Trump has been under fire for casting doubt on mail-in voting, others are also blaming him for making poor choices when it came to candidates.
"Every Republican in this country ought to hold Donald Trump accountable for this," Geoff Duncan, Georgia's Republican lieutenant governor, said in an interview with CNN. "The only way to explain this is candidate quality."
Regardless of the reasons, several of Trump's allies are abandoning him and his conspiracy theories. Republican operative Scott Jennings warned on Twitter that "Georgia may be remembered as the state that broke Trump once and for all."
After it was announced on Thursday that the House passed the Respect for Marriage Act, protecting the rights of same-sex and interracial marriages, Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-MO) made a tearful plea to her colleagues to help her in pushing back against it.
In a statement made on the House floor, Hartzler squared off against the Speaker saying "I'll tell you my priority; protect religious liberty, protect people of faith, and protect Americans who believe in the true meaning of marriage."
As highlighted in Insider's coverage of Hartzler's breakdown, this is not the first time she's taken a firm stance against same-sex marriage. Before entering into Congress, the Republican "pushed for an amendment to be added to Missouri's constitution that would define marriage as between a man and a woman."
Although the Respect for Marriage Act is better than nothing, it is an imperfect bill in that individual states are not legally required to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, but they must honor the rights of couples who were legally married elsewhere.
In a November interview with Tony Perkins, Family Research Council President, Hartzler expressed her views towards gay marriage in regards to the bill that was passed today saying "They act like they're being so magnanimous in this bill to protect our pastors, to not force them to carry out same-sex marriage ceremonies, and yet they trample on the freedom of everyone else in this country . . . It's a very sad situation and it's deceiving."
The 258-169 vote in favor of the Respect for Marriage Act on Thursday sends the issue over to President Biden's desk. Biden has expressed support of the bill and, once approved, will sign it into law.
"I am shocked that conservatives that have a libertarian bent believe that somehow we ought to get involved in this," said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md. according to NBC. "It's not the government's business."
"Your love is your choice," said Hoyer. "The pursuit of happiness means you can love whom you choose."