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Family, Edgewood High School at odds over alleged racial harassment

Published On: May 28 2014 07:12:09 PM CDT
Updated On: May 28 2014 08:18:34 PM CDT

A local family is fighting with officials at Edgewood High School over allegedly failing to stop racial harassment.

MADISON, Wis. -

A local family is fighting with officials at Edgewood High School over allegedly failing to stop racial harassment.

The family is asking for tuition money back, while school officials said they handled things appropriately.

Blake Broadnax spent two and a half years as a student at Edgewood High School, played on the basketball team and was active in school events. But he said that throughout that time, he was the victim of racially motivated harassment, which escalated into his junior year. Blake and his mother Rena told their story to News 3 from their new home in Indiana.

"I think the worst situation for me, out of everything that had happened, was in public speaking," Blake Broadnax said. "I had asked a kid to edit my speech and he gave it back to me and crossed out my name, Blake Broadnax, and wrote 'My little niglet.' Then he wrote the n-word on the paper about 10 more times."

Documents provided by Edgewood High School to the Broadnax family attorney detail the incident in March of last year. The student was pulled from classes, given an out of school suspension, required to apologize and put on disciplinary probation.

But Blake Broadnax said this was not the only incident. In November, he walked out of school after a student allegedly discussing rhyming vocabulary words told him that "trigger" and the n-word rhymed. Blake claims he'd been hearing the n-word every day for months.

"I expected racial things to happen so much that I would be relieved when it did happen because then I could go on with my day," Blake Broadnax said.

Documents also show the school offered to confront and discipline the students, on this and other alleged incidents. Instead, the family argued for a larger approach to address the culture within the whole school.

"Our thing is we're paying Edgewood monthly a great deal of money to send our son there to get a proper education in a good environment and they weren't providing that at all," Blake's mother, Rena Broadnax, said.

Edgewood High School's President Mike Elliott said he doesn't believe the n-word was being used in the school's halls daily.

"I can't comment on the specific case or student but what I can say is that I think when we know about a situation we deal with it immediately," Elliott said.

Elliott said his administration handled incidents that were reported to them appropriately.

"I look at our students, I look at our faculty, I look at our student services and when we knew and know about an issue, we do deal with it," Elliott said.

A month after Blake Broadnax's family decided to pull him out of the school, Edgewood held an all-school assembly and sent an email home to parents saying staff were aware of "inappropriate behavior...including social media misuse, the use of racial slurs, intentional social exclusion, cyber bullying and profane language," and they were making an effort to solve the problem.

"It wasn't due to one family or one family leaving," Elliott said. "It was due to multiple issues that were out there that were challenging our institution and we felt we needed to take a stand and educate in a major way."

The Broadnax family said more diversity education is needed.

"It's good that they did it after I left, but that should have happened while I was still there," Blake Broadnax said.

"This hurts, I don't like any student to leave," Elliott said. "We tried our best to save the student and keep him here and unfortunately the family didn't agree and we feel bad about that. But that doesn't mean we did something wrong."

The Broadnax family is also asking for a full refund of their tuition paid over 2 1/2 years and compensation for emotional distress. While their attorney said they haven't asked for a specific amount, he has noted to Edgewood administration that a jury awarded a student in New York $1.2 million in a federal lawsuit against a public school for similar allegations.

Elliott wouldn't comment on whether the school plans to offer a settlement to the family, other than to say they believe they did nothing wrong.

The family said they are still considering a formal lawsuit.

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