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Black student told her skin was ‘too dark’ sues Blue Valley for race discrimination

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An African-American girl who was allegedly told that her skin was “too dark” to perform during a school dance has filed a racial discrimination suit against the Blue Valley School District.

Camille Sturdivant graduated from Blue Valley Northwest High School in May 2018 and was one of two African-American students on the 14-member Dazzlers dance team, according to the suit filed in U.S. District Court in Kansas City, Kan.

The suit alleges that Sturdivant suffered racial discrimination and was ostracized from dance team events in retaliation for complaints about how she was treated because of her race.

In 2017, dance team choreographer Kevin Murakami allegedly made the comment about her skin being too dark, saying it would distract the audience from looking at the other dancers.

“Murakami also told Sturdivant that her skin color clashed with the color of the costumes,” the suit alleges.

Last year, the dance team’s coach, Carley Fine, was fired as a result of racial comments she made about Sturdivant, according to the lawsuit.

Fine had worked for Blue Valley Schools, first as an assistant drill team coach and later as head drill team coach, since July 2016, the district said.

Shortly before her graduation, Sturdivant was given the coach’s phone to play music for the dance team when she saw text messages between Fine and Murakami.

According to the suit, Sturdivant had recently won a spot on the Golden Girls dance team at the University of Missouri for the next school year. The text messages appeared to discuss that news.

“THAT DOESN’T MAKE SENSE. I’m so mad,” the choreographer wrote.

The coach responded, “It actually makes my stomach hurt.”

She then added: “Bc she’s (expletive) black. I hate that.”

The suit says that Sturdivant was “sickened” by the texts. She showed them to her parents, who showed them to the school principal.

The coach was fired the next day, and told that she could not be on school property or have contact with Sturdivant or any other member of the dance team.

But the former coach was seen at the school and with members of the dance team several times afterward, the suit alleges.

Sturdivant’s family was told that a team banquet paid for by parents was canceled, but later learned that Fine and all of the other dancers except Sturdivant had attended a dinner on the Plaza on the same date as the canceled banquet.

At the final dance performance of the school year, all of the team members except Sturdivant and the other African-American team member wore ribbons on their costumes with the initials CL for Carley Fine, according to the suit.

Sturdivant and the other African-American student were excluded from team photos taken after the event on school property.

The suit names the district, school principal Amy Pressly, Fine and Katie Porter, the parent of another dancer on the team and a school district teacher, as defendants.

It seeks an unspecified amount in damages.

The Blue Valley district issued the following statement Wednesday regarding the lawsuit:

“Respectful and meaningful relationships between staff and students are at the heart of Blue Valley’s culture. Discrimination of any kind has no place here. The District expects staff to treat all students with respect at all times, and any report that this expectation has not been fulfilled is taken very seriously. As stated in the Complaint, on May 1, 2018, Mrs. Sturdivant showed Dr. Pressly the text message between Mr. Murakami and Ms. Fine. Ms. Fine’s employment with the District was separated the following day on May 2, 2018.”

The Star has also sent requests for comment to Fine, Porter and Murakami, but those individuals have not returned messages.

12-year-old Tarrick Walker, with his parents Marcel and Darlene Walker, are making a stand against bullying after he was called the “N-word” on the playground of his Hanford, California school.

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Tony Rizzo covers federal and state courts for The Kansas City Star, where he has been a reporter for more than 30 years. He is a Kansas City native and veteran of the U.S. Army.
Katy Bergen covers Johnson County for The Kansas City Star. She is a graduate of the Missouri School of Journalism.
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