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She was being subjected to racist conduct that was not being addressed by the school district.

In Saranac Lake, racial bullying sparks $6 million lawsuit

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A young girl who was bullied, harassed and assaulted in school because of her race has filed a $6 million federal lawsuit against the Saranac Lake Central School District.

The girl and her parents, Amy and Hiram Oliveras, filed a complaint last week in U.S. Northern District Court, alleging the school district violated her civil rights and the state's Human Rights Law by failing to protect her from bullying, racial discrimination and harassment.

Martha Foley reports,

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Chris Knight
Adirondack Correspondent

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The complaint alleges that the girl, who is now 12 years old and of Caribbean descent, was "subjected to a learning environment hostile toward her on account of her race."

The report cites several incidents that took place during the 2008-09 and 2009-10 school years, the summer of 2010 and the fall of 2010.

In one of those incidents, the contents of the girl's backpack were smashed and a racial slur was written with her deodorant on the sidewalk outside the Saranac Lake Middle School. School officials were told about what happened shortly thereafter, but the racial slur wasn't washed off until eight days after the incident, setting off a firestorm of criticism against the school district.

The girl, now in the eigth grade at Saranac Lake Middle School, is being represented in the case by A.J. Bosman, a Rome-based lawyer who is director of the Children's Rights Initiative, a nonprofit organization that provides free legal services to indigent children.

"The allegations and the factual background were that she was being victimized," Bosman said Friday, "both at a level of bullying in the sense that that's what happened, and that she was being subjected to racist conduct that was not being addressed by the school district."

School Superintendent Gerald Goldman, who's one of the defendants named in the lawsuit, said on Friday that he hadn't received a summons and otherwise declined to comment.He referred additional questions to the lawyer representing the district in the case, who didn't respond to a telephone message Friday.

Over the past year, school officials say they have taken steps to "change the culture" of the school district. The school board implemented a new harassment, hazing and bullying policy and the the district hired an outside group to put on a series of diversity training sessions for teachers, administrators and school board members.

"We've tried to respond to what happened in all the ways we possibly could," Goldman said in June.

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