A complaint filed Tuesday with the Missouri Commission on Human Rights against a principal, counselor, teacher, secretary and student at Smithton Middle School alleges that an eighth-grade student was racially profiled when she was arrested for fighting.
School personnel said the girl was one of two students in a hallway fight on Jan. 10.
According to the complaint, a middle-school student recorded the fight between a white girl and a black girl on a cellphone. The school counselor misidentified a student as one of the two girls in the fight without looking at the video, according to the complaint.
The girl, whose mother filed the complaint, was arrested and taken to a juvenile detention facility and was held for more than 24 hours.
While being held in the facility, the girl was forced to unbraid her hair, to have it doused “with an anti-lice compound,” to change out of her clothes and to wear a gray sweatsuit and “underwear worn by countless other strange girls before her,” the complaint states.
“She was further traumatized and made to spend the night,” according to the complaint.
The complaint states that after her mother, Kandas Holmes-Barnes, was able to prove her daughter’s innocence to authorities with the video the next day, “the police immediately apologized. The detention center authorities apologized. The principal apologized.”
The school resource officer for Smithton, Officer Tony Ash, was not in the school at the time of the fight, Columbia Police public information officer Jeff Pitts said. Ash is the sole resource officer for all the middle schools, Pitts said.
Columbia Public Schools spokesperson Michelle Baumstark said Wednesday that she could not comment on disciplinary records for students who are minors. Columbia Public Schools has policies in place that prohibit discrimination and harassment, and all reports are immediately investigated, she said.
The complaint alleges that authorities “acted on nothing more than race-based gossip” and that the discrimination did not end after she was exonerated.
In a phone interview, Holmes-Barnes said her daughter was made fun of and was called “jailbird,” among other insults, when she returned to school.
A white boy also pushed the girl and slammed her against a locker, according to the complaint. The girl slapped the boy in self-defense, and the boy admitted to initiating “unwanted physical contact with” the girl, according to the complaint.
After this incident, the girl was suspended for five days while the boy was given a three-day suspension after the girl’s mother “cried foul” to the school, according to the complaint.
The girl was prescribed an antidepressant by a “school-sanctioned psychiatrist” and subsequently attempted to take her own life, according to the complaint.
When asked how her daughter is coping, Holmes-Barnes said, “She just shuts down. I don’t want her to shut down like this anymore.”
Supervising editor is Katherine Reed.