Davis School District in northern Utah has agreed to pay $62,500 to settle a lawsuit over a biracial student who was shut in the doors of a bus and left dangling outside as it drove forward.
The prominent civil rights case — which drew national attention and which the boy’s family called an example of “racial assault” — will now end quietly as soon as a judge signs the proposal submitted to the court Tuesday.
“I think it’s horrendous what Davis School District did,” said Robert Sykes, the attorney who represented the boy. “I hope they learned a lesson.”
The boy, a 14-year-old student at West Point Junior High, had been about to step off a bus in February when he felt a tug at his back. A line of kids had filed off ahead of him, and at least five more were waiting behind him. But suddenly the bus lurched forward and his body was pinned outside with his backpack stuck in the door, according to video of the incident.
The driver stopped after rolling about 150 feet — while students yelled at him to pull over — and then opened the doors and dropped the boy on the sidewalk.
His mother, Brenda Mayes, sued the school district, the transportation director and the driver, saying her son was the only student of color on the bus and the driver intentionally caught the boy in the door because of his skin color. The lawsuit said there had been at least three other reports of the driver, John Naisbitt, harassing multiracial students before this. And while Naisbitt was never disciplined in connection with those prior allegations, it added, he quietly retired after the newest complaint.
"There was no accountability, no response, no change, no anything.” Mayes said Wednesday. “You can’t have a man injure children and disregard it completely. Now, at least, financially someone is going to have to be accountable.”
With the settlement, the boy, who is a minor and not named in the U.S. District Court lawsuit, will receive $21,250. The remaining $41,250 will go to his law firm.
Davis spokeswoman Shauna Lund said the district’s policy is not to comment on litigation. But, she added, “We take these matters very seriously and do everything we can to protect students.”
The agreement stipulates that Mayes’ son can use up to $500 per school year to attend a camp for black youth “where he can feel safe and included.” He can also spend $1,000 for a laptop when he starts high school and $5,000 for a car when he turns 16. The rest of the money will remain in a trust account until he turns 18.
Sykes said he’s happy with the settlement amount — but was upset when the school district originally suggested $15,000 for the deal.
“It was kind of offensive,” he added. “They were denying the racist conduct here. It’s unbelievable.”
The family accepted the higher amount because they didn’t want the case to linger, the attorney said, and because they didn’t know how a jury might see the situation.
“As offensive as it is, thankfully he wasn’t injured by this,” Sykes suggested.
The student population in Davis School District, overall, is 83% white. West Point Junior High, where the boy attends school, is 84%. According to 2018 demographics kept by the state, 39 kids there are multiracial like Mayes’ son. She is white and the boy’s father is black.
Mayes said she hopes that the district will provide more training for teachers on biases and that policies will change so reports of discrimination are taken seriously. Her son, she added, “is going to be OK,” though he was shaken up from the situation.
The district previously faced criticism this year when one of its teachers told a Catholic student to wipe off the Ash Wednesday cross from his forehead. In 2012, administrators there were sued for deciding to remove a book about lesbian mothers from shelves of their elementary school libraries.