Red Wing superintendent denies lawsuit allegations over 'Wangsta Day' incident
RED WING — Just one month into his new job, Red Wing Superintendent Karsten Anderson finds himself leading a district involved in a federal class-action lawsuit based on controversial incidents — dubbed "Wangsta Day" — years before he came on board.
Former Red Wing student Quera Pruitt filed the lawsuit Friday in U.S. District Court, claiming discrimination, negligence and violations of the Minnesota Human Rights Act in 2008 and 2009. In the complaint, Pruitt says she suffered from depression and quit track, cheerleading and student council after the incident. She seeks more than $75,000 in damages.
Anderson and other district officials were not aware of the new development until Monday morning. The situation was mentioned briefly at Monday's school board meeting, when Anderson read a prepared statement that denied any wrongdoing.
"Independent School District 256, Red Wing, has been and continues to be committed to providing an education to its students that is free from discrimination and harassment based on race or otherwise. The district denies the allegations that it has created a racially hostile environment and looks forward to meeting these allegations in court," Anderson said.
Anderson, who assumed his duties July 1 for retired Stan Slessor, declined further comment afterward, while also directing board members to refer all questions and concerns to him. The former Watertown-Mayer superintendent said he isn't sure when the legal proceedings are scheduled to begin.
The controversy stems from a Homecoming week dress-up days in which about 40 white students dressed up in athletic jerseys, sagged their pants and wore cocked baseball hats or do rags to celebrate "Wangsta Day" or "Wigger Day," both of which are pejorative terms for white people emulating African-American culture. The incidents took place in 2008 and 2009 but have since been banned.
The students were asked to change their attire by Red Wing High School Principal Beth Borgen, who is also listed as a defendant in the lawsuit, but some people feel that was an insufficient response. Maxine Pruitt, Quera's mother, was one of the leaders in asking the school board multiple times to address her concerns.
Still dissatisfied with the district's response, Maxine Pruitt reported the incident to the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights in 2010. That led to the district agreeing to implement a 17-point action plan, while also having its actions monitored by the Office of Civil Rights until 2012.
It's unclear what prompted the lawsuit nearly three years after the fact, but it appears to be an extension of lingering dissatisfaction.