ALBUQUERQUE, NM – Today, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of New Mexico sent a letter to the superintendent of Albuquerque Public Schools (APS) demanding the district make immediate changes to prevent students of color from being subject to racially-hostile school climates. Recently, Cibola High School came under fire after a teacher, dressed as a “Voodoo witch” on Halloween, cut a Native American student’s hair, and called another student a “bloody Indian,” in front of an entire class.
“Schools should be places where all students feel safe and welcomed, not subject to abuse by teachers entrusted with their education and wellbeing,” said ACLU of New Mexico Legal Director Leon Howard. “APS has an obligation to ensure students are not forced to endure humiliating and harmful experiences like these.”
The family of the student who was verbally abused at Cibola High School has since submitted a complaint to APS and is currently represented in the matter by the ACLU of New Mexico. In the letter sent today, the ACLU also demands that APS implement new policies and procedures to ensure students, over the long term, can attend school in a safe environment where they are treated with dignity and respect, free from all forms of violence and discrimination.
“These incidents not only prevent students from receiving an equal education; they are dehumanizing and life-altering,” said Howard. “They send a message to students of color that their lives don’t matter and that their schools will not protect them.”
The letter comes after the ACLU met with community members who expressed concern over recent incidents of discrimination and systemic hostility towards Native Americans. The group raised a number of additional concerns including APS’ failure to properly recognize Native American Heritage Month, or ensure that teachers do not assign reading materials with derogatory references to Native Americans without mention of the nation’s history of racism or violent displacement of Native Americans.
Incidents of racism within APS are not limited to Cibola High School or to this year. Another incident occurred last September at Volcano Vista High School when two students racially harassed their African American classmates by posting a doctored photo to social media that superimposed Ku Klux Klan hoods over a photo of everyone in the class but the African American students.
In its letter, the ACLU demands APS implement broader recognition of Native American Heritage Month, cultural competency training for all APS administrators, teachers, and staff, and anti-oppression curriculum addressing the harm of racism for middle school and high school students.
A copy of the letter can be found here.