Missouri attorney general is accused of racial bias for pinning a student fight on diversity program

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Days after Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey blamed an after-school fight on a school district’s diversity programs, an attorney for the majority-black district in suburban St. Louis said the state’s chief attorney is exhibiting “obvious racial bias” .

Bailey, who is campaigning to keep his seat, said last week he is investigating possible violations of state human rights laws by the Hazelwood School District after a March 8 fight left a girl hospitalized with serious head injuries .

Bailey blamed the school district’s diversity, equity and inclusion programs for the fight, which St. Louis County police said took place after school in a neighborhood about two blocks from Hazelwood East High School. He said if there had been no programs, a school resource officer would have been at the school.

“I am launching an investigation into Hazelwood School District after a student was senselessly attacked by another student in broad daylight,” Bailey said in a statement. “The entire community deserves answers about how Hazelwood’s radical DEI programs led to such despicable safety lapses that left one student fighting for her life.”

Hazelwood School District attorney Cindy Reeds Ormsby said in a letter to Bailey on Tuesday that his “obvious racial bias against majority-minority school districts is evident.”

“Do you honestly believe, without any official verification or specific knowledge, that the March 8 fight was the result of a racial issue among the female students caused by the HSD belief in the importance of diversity, equality and inclusivity for all? Ormsby wrote. “As Missouri Attorney General, which community do you represent? Do you represent all Missouri citizens? Or just white citizens?”

Ormsby also questioned Bailey’s interest in the Hazelwood attack, but not in several other cases of violence against students from nearby districts.

Hazelwood School District is about 95% black and less than 2% white, according to state education department data. The races of the victim and a 15-year-old girl arrested for assault have not been released.

In a response Tuesday to Ormsby’s letter, Bailey did not directly address her accusations of racial bias, but said she should stop making personal attacks. He acknowledged his earlier mistake in reporting that the date of the fight was March 11, not March 8, and again ordered the district to provide data for his investigation.

Calls and emails from the Associated Press to the hospitalized girl’s family attorney were not immediately returned. The 15-year-old has not been named by police because she is a minor.

Problems with school staff at Hazelwood schools began in 2021, when the district tried to require police to complete 10 hours of diversity, equity and inclusion training to work at the schools.

Police chiefs from St. Louis County, Florissant and Hazelwood sent a letter to the school board in June of that year saying police “receive training that is more than adequate and addresses the critical issues of diversity, equity and inclusion.”

No agreement was reached between the police department and the schools, prompting the district to hire 60 private security guards to replace school staff.

Hazelwood police later returned to some buildings in the district as school personnel. But Florissant and St. Louis County police never reached an agreement with the school district.

In a letter requesting documents from Hazelwood about the student struggle, Bailey wrote that “the absence of SROs on site is directly attributable to Hazelwood’s emphasis on prioritizing race-based policies over basic student safety.”

Ormsby said school personnel “would not have prevented a fight from occurring off school grounds and outside of the school day.”

Hazelwood spokeswoman Jordyn Elston said in a statement that the school district “does not prioritize DEI initiatives at the expense of student safety” and believes the programs promote student safety and learning.

“These values ​​are non-negotiable,” Elston said, “and we will continue to prioritize them in all aspects of our work as community leaders.”