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Peoria Unified students subjected to racial slurs, Hitler salutes, feds say

The U.S. Department of Education says students of color in the West Valley district have been subjected to racial harassment.

PEORIA, Ariz. — Students of color in the Peoria Unified School District have been subjected in recent years to racial harassment by classmates and staff members, according to an investigation by the U.S. Department of Education.

The federal office announced Friday that the West Valley district has failed to protect students from bullying that included racial slurs, mimicking "Heil Hitler" salutes, drawing swastikas on photos, and comparing a student's skin color to "burnt food."

Students were forced to endure a "hostile" environment because Peoria's administrators ineffectively responded to the "widespread" harassment, the Department of Education said.

Minority students reported multiple instances where they felt ridiculed and singled out by their peers based on their race or ethnicity. 

Federal records show the district had documented cases of students mocking the 2020 death of George Floyd, teachers touching the hair of Black students, and students doing a "Heil Hitler" salute during a school field trip. 

One teacher told the Department of Education they had heard students refer to COVID-19 as the “China Virus,” records show. Another teacher told investigators they wouldn't be surprised "if students were being picked on or called a terrorist" because of the color of their skin. 

Emails reviewed by federal investigators suggest district staff were aware of the racial harassment and communicated with each other on how to discipline students.

“The racist behavior from [Student A] is continuing and I plan to infuse some cultural sensitivity tasks during that time too,” one email states.

But the federal agency determined PUSD did not do enough to protect its students.

As a result of the investigation, Peoria Unified agreed to review its policies, train staff on civil rights issues, and issue a notice to parents about how to identify and report harassment.

In a statement, Peoria Unified said it has been "cooperating with the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Civil Rights regarding a past complaint at Vistancia Elementary School."

The district's statement goes on to state the following:

We are moving forward with the voluntary resolution agreement as we are confident in our new leadership to build a positive and inclusive environment for students and staff at Vistancia. Peoria Unified remains unwavering in our commitment to provide equal educational opportunities to all students and an environment that is free from harassment of any kind.

Peoria is the second Valley school district to be recently investigated by the Department of Education. A report released last month by the federal agency faulted the Kyrene School District for failing to address anti-Semitic harassment.

RELATED: Federal investigation finds Kyrene School District failed to stop anti-Semitic harassment for months

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