U.S. Justice Department Letter to Buncombe Co. School Board

NOTE: The following letter was faxed to the Buncombe Co. School Board on the night of March 4, 1999 in response to the Board faxing to the U.S. Justice Department a copy of its Resolution on the issue passed that night:

By Telecopier

Walter L. Currie, Esq.
Cynthia S. Lopez Esq.
Roberts & Stevens, P.A.
P.O. Box 7647
Asheville, NC 29802

Re: Buncombe County Board of Education

Dear Mr. Currie and Ms. Lopez:

I write pursuant to your request for an expedited review of the information we have received to date concerning allegations that American Indian students in the Buncombe County School District are subjected to a racially hostile environment and that Man children are being denied equal educational opportunities because of Erwin High School's mascots and activities associated with the mascots. We have carefully considered the information you have already provided to us, including your representation that there have been no other complaints about a racially hostile atmosphere for American Indian students in the past, the fact that the Buncombe County school system has never been under a desegregation order, and the various measures the Board and Superintendent have taken in the past year and a half in response co converns about the School's mascot. In addition, we have taken into account certaln matters that were raised during the public hearing held at Erwin High School last week.

Further, I understand that the Buncombe County Board of Education approved a resolution today in which it commits to eliminate permanently from Clyde A. Erwin High School (the 'School') the use of "squaw" or "squaws* to describe, depict or symbolize any student group of students, school organization or athletic team prior to the beginning of the 1999-2000 school year. In addition, you have represented to us that the Board has committed, and in fact has begun taking actions, to:

(1) Prior to the beginning of the 1999-2000 school year, eliminate permanently from the School any and aU uses of American Indian religious symbols, including those that may be part of any display or depiction, which an identified as being offensive to or disrespectful of American Indian culture by the Chief of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (to "Eastern Bond") or her representative, after a tour of the entire School facility and grounds, except that the two totem poles currently situated at the School, and the statue in front of the School, may remain, and

(2) Seek an appropriately qualified education consultant wh will review the School District's current media center collections and curricula offerings, and recommend to the Board and the Superintendent additions and/or modifications that may further the Board's existing policy of respecting cultural differences and, in particular, may foster among students and staff a greater understanding of and appreciation for America Indian history and culture.

Based on the Board's resolution, your further representations to us concerning the above actions, and the information we have, we have determined that the measures specified above constitute apositive and meaningful response to the written complaint we received. Accordingly, in view of all the circumstances, we are closing our preliminary inquiry into allegations of a racially hostile enviroment against and the denial of equal educational opportunities to American Indian children at Clyde A. Erwin High school, and will take no further action.

It may also be helpful for you to know that we have, consistent with our normal practice in matters such as this, conferred with officials of the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights. They confirm that the standards and principles we am applying in our review of this case are in line. with their previous guidance on this issue.

If you have questions about any of the above, please contact Anita Hodgkiss.

Thank you very much for your kind assistance in this matter.

Bill Lann Lee
Acting Assistant
Attorney General
Civil Rights Division