Settlement agreement reached in rap video case against local schools, police

WCPO reports today that a settlement agreement has been reached in the federal lawsuit four African-American students filed against the Northwest Local School District and Colerain Township police earlier this year. The suit alleges that Northwest Local Schools and several officers from the Colerain Township Police Department violated the students' constitutional rights when they held, interrogated, and ultimately expelled them from school in April after an investigation undertaken by the district. The students claim that they were expelled for making rap videos off campus and during off hours from school. According to WCPO, school officials allege that it was the students' behavior, not the videos that got them expelled.

Some background for the case: After two gun-related incidents involving other Colerain High School students happened in late March and early April last year, parents allegedly complained about things they had seen on the social media sites of some African-American students. This prompted school officials to undertake "a multi-day investigation into online, outside-of-school activities of African-American students at Colerain High School," according to the lawsuit, filed by the Legal Aid Society of Southwest Ohio. The investigation resulted in the questioning and expulsion of several students, including the four plaintiffs in the case, who were alleged to have been making gang signs in videos posted online. A WCPO article posted in September, 2014 provides greater detail about these events.

The suit alleges that the actions of the police and school were racially motivated, as other white students who had engaged in similar behaviors were not disciplined in the same way. The school district claims that students of other races were also suspended and expelled. A WCPO analysis of state data for 2012-2013 revealed significant disparities in discipline rates between black and white students in large suburban school districts such as Northwest Local, which had discipline rates at least three times higher for black students than white students in every school in the district.

The students sought $25,000 in damages as well as a declaration that the actions of the school district and police were unconstitutional, expungements of the disciplinary actions from the students' records and changes to the policies and practices of the school district and police. The terms of the settlement agreement are not known, but a Legal Aid press release states that it "...seeks to create a partnership between the parties to promote diversity respect at the school." Federal judge Timothy Black will conduct a hearing over the settlement today at 11am.