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Former student files civil rights lawsuit against Hartland Consolidated School District

Back of a school bus

A Black woman has filed a civil rights lawsuit against her former school district, Hartland Consolidated School District, as well as district administrators Chuck Hughes, Kate Gregory, and Emily Aluia.

Tatayana Vanderlaan, now 20, attended the district between 2019 and 2021. Her lawsuit alleges she was subjected to a virtually unchecked, openly racist environment — and was forced to endured pervasive racial slurs due to failure to intervene by district officials.

The lawsuit alleges white students called her a racial slur, told her to "go back to her plantation," mocked and grabbed her hair, and made racist jokes in her presence.

"Students weren't disciplined," said NachtLaw attorney Amanda Ghannam. "Even teachers, when they would overhear the comments themselves, they would turn a blind eye, turn the other way, and say, well there's really nothing we can do about it."

The lawsuit alleges that the harassment escalated over time, with some students repeatedly threatening to lynch Vanderlaan.

In March 2021, the U.S. Attorney's Office opened a Title VI investigation into the allegations of racial harassment at the District. Hartland Consolidated School District entered in a Letter Agreement with the USAO to address its failure to address "pervasive" race-based harassment of Vanderlaan and other current and former Black students.

On July 1, 2021, the Livingston County Sheriff's Department filed charges against four white male students accused of racially harassing Vanderlaan.

The lawsuit alleges the District violated Vanderlaan's rights under the U.S. Constitution and her rights under the Michigan Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act, and seeks punitive and compensatory damages, including damages for mental anguish, pain and suffering, and humiliation.

District Superintendent Chuck Hughes and Board of Education President Chris Costa did not respond to a request for comment about the lawsuit's allegations.

Tracy Samilton covers energy and transportation, including the auto industry and the business response to climate change for Michigan Public. She began her career at Michigan Public as an intern, where she was promptly “bitten by the radio bug,” and never recovered.