CCSD

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Three current and former school administrators have sued the Charleston County School District alleging a pattern of discrimination against African-American students and employees.

According to the series of federal lawsuits, school resource officers have called black students from certain neighborhoods "thugs," and white teachers have cut the hoods off of black students' jackets, all part of a broader pattern of discrimination and unequal enforcement that leads to disproportionate disciplinary action against black students.

The lawsuits, filed within the past year, also claim a pattern of discrimination against black employees in the district, particularly black women, who they say have been denied opportunities for advancement as administrators.

All three plaintiffs are black women, and all three say they were demoted, relocated or put on professional improvement plans as retaliation for speaking out about the alleged discrimination.

The plaintiffs in the three lawsuits are Corel Lenhardt, Keysha Williams-Tolliver and Blondelle Gadsden, all of whom have worked as school principals or assistant principals in the district. All three are represented by attorney Edward Brown.

They initially sued the district and several district leaders last fall and since have filed similar complaints listing only the school district as a defendant.

Lenhardt filed the most recent lawsuit against the district on June 29. In it, she says she began complaining to her superiors about discrimination during the 2009-2010 school year when she was chair of the English department at St. John's High, a majority-black school.

She said one white teacher at St. John's told his students in 2012 that "all of you could end up back in slavery" because then-President Barack Obama only had four years left in office. Later, while serving as assistant principal at Burke Middle High, Lenhardt said one white teacher "consistently and constantly used profanity in a derogatory fashion towards black students," but superiors told her not to discipline the teacher at all.

Gadsden filed suit in September 2016 saying she had been shuffled around the district for years after raising similar complaints, serving as an administrator at Wando High, Stall High, Burke High and Brentwood Middle before being demoted to a teaching position at Liberty Hill Academy. Williams-Tolliver filed a similar complaint in November 2016.

A school district spokesman said the district does not comment on ongoing or pending litigation. In a June court filing, the district said it had made some of its employment decisions because of a major budget shortfall in 2015 and said Williams-Tolliver had failed to conduct some classroom observations of teachers.

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Reach Paul Bowers at 843-937-5546. Follow him on Twitter @paul_bowers.

Paul Bowers is an education reporter and father of three living in North Charleston. He previously worked at the Charleston City Paper, where he was twice named South Carolina Journalist of the Year in the weekly category.

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