The parents of four black teens expelled from an Ohio school district over rap music videos have filed a federal lawsuit, claiming school officials and police violated their constitutional rights.
The suit claims administrators at Colerain High School and Colerain Township police rounded up the students on April 10 and held them for up to six hours in a windowless room, where they were questioned as armed officers stood guard.
Administrators accused the teens of belonging to gangs and flashing “street” signs in the videos, which the students made outside of school.
The $25 million lawsuit claims white students engaged in similar conduct but were not questioned or disciplined.
“It is not a crime to be an African-American teenager. Yet, on April 10, 2014, Colerain High School administrators in coordination with Colerain Township police officer acted as if it were,” the lawsuit claims.
Police went to the school after rumors were circulated about an alleged threat on social media about a potential school shooting, and panicked parents went to pick up their children.
Officers escorted several students from campus, including one student with an alleged gang reference on his sweatshirt, but police never found any evidence of the rumored threat.
The disciplined students called themselves the “money gang,” but their parents said they were simply a group of athletes who were friends outside of school and not an actual gang.
One parents said her son made the videos as part of a social media class project and earned an “A” grade.
Another parent said police choked his son to the ground until he nearly lost consciousness because the teen refused to turn over his cell phone.
The parents of all four teens said the expulsion hearings did not give their children a fair chance to explain themselves.
An attorney for Northwest Schools said the situation was handled properly, and he claims the lawsuit contains significant inaccuracies – such as the implication that only black students were disciplined.
The district’s attorney, John Concannon, said 14 students were suspended and recommended for expulsion related to threats made at school or on social media against students or school staff.
He said black and white students were disciplined, and he said all were eventually welcomed back to school, although one student transferred.
The attorney said the discipline was related to “serious” violations of “reasonable school rules,” and not related to the music videos, although he did not specify which rules were broken.
Colerain High School has about 1,000 more white students than black, reported the Cincinnati Enquirer, but black students were suspended or expelled 229 more days than white students during the 2012-2013 school year.
In addition to punitive and compensatory damages, the lawsuit seeks the deletion of the expulsion from the students’ records.
Watch this video report posted online by WLWT-TV: