Asian American mom says district failed to protect sons after swastika and racism incidents

A Texas woman is accusing her sons’ school district of failing to condemn racism after she says they were subjected to anti-Asian American taunts on the bus, and her older boy had a swastika drawn on his shirt last year.

Hai Au Huynh, 45, told NBC News that she feels she has no choice but to speak out publicly after the incidents at Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District, just outside Houston.

She described how in May of last year, a swastika was drawn on her 11-year-old son’s shirt. School officials have continuously refused to honor the family’s “stay away” request for the offending students since, Huynh said. And months earlier, in January, when a student taunted Huynh’s sons on the bus coming home from McGown Elementary School — chanting  “[ch*** ch***] wing wong,” at her youngest, then 8  — officials responded that the words were “not motivated by racism.”  

Huynh said she viewed surveillance video from the bus that captured the incident, but was unable to obtain a copy despite requesting it. 

The school district looked into the incident and a summary of the investigation, seen by NBC News, said that the fourth-grade student was “singing a song he presumably heard from TIK TOK with the words ‘ch*** ch***.’”

Rather than acting out of racial motivation,  the child’s intent “was to annoy,” the summary said. 

“The 4th grader did not realize the words [“ch*** ch***”] were considered racist,” the summary said. “The student can be heard questioning this on the bus video, and during the investigation, he stated that he was unaware.” 

But Huynh said her son tried to stop the behavior.

“My younger son, who was 8 years old at the time, had told him that this is racist and you need to stop and that child continued to mock him,” she said.  

Student incident reports featuring accounts from her sons, viewed by NBC News, similarly said that the offending child was told that the words were racist. 

Among the most disappointing conclusions of the district’s investigation, Huynh said, was the district’s refusal to publicly address and condemn the act. The summary stated that “the campus determined their priority was to educate the students, not the community at large.” 

Au Huynh speaks at a board meeting of the Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District in Texas.
Au Huynh speaks at a board meeting of the Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District in Texas.Cypress-Fairbanks ISD

Huynh said that she feels it’s critical that the district address racism, given the history of racist incidents that have occurred in the area. For example, the district made headlines in 2017 when a group of seniors posed for their class photo doing a Nazi salute. 

The school district did not specify what disciplinary measures it took against the students at the time, but in a statement to BuzzFeed News, the district said that “appropriate action has been taken.”

“CFISD is extremely disappointed with the actions that were taken by some students at one of our campuses,” the district said. 

Without further action from the district, Huynh said, students of color could feel less welcome. 

“Even if the student doesn’t have any ‘racial motivation,’ he learned these horrible, horrific words from somewhere. And by not addressing this with a larger community that says that you are complicit to his usage,” Huynh said. “And I said that in my meeting with them. 

“My hope with this is that other families who have experienced this sort of hate are encouraged and supported when they speak out,” Huynh said. “I think this is how change happens — when communities collectively speak out.” 

Neither McGown Elementary School nor the school district returned NBC News’ request for comment. 

Huynh said her family found themselves at the center of another concerning incident months later when her older son and his fifth grade peers were signing the backs of one another’s T-shirts at the end of the school year. Huynh said that upon taking off his shirt, her son noticed that someone had drawn a swastika on it.  

“My son knows exactly what the swastika is and represents,” she said. “He was horrified and quickly scribbled over it because he did not want anyone thinking he drew it and supported it.”

After the family reported the incident to the school the same day, Huynh said officials went ahead with an investigation within the week and completed it without consulting her son. Shortly afterward, she said she ended up filing an official grievance with the school, calling on them to issue a “stay away agreement” to prevent the offenders from coming into contact with her son.  

But neither the elementary school nor Sprague Middle School, where her son and one of the offenders moved onto, enacted the agreement, she said.  And she has since filed two additional grievance appeals, participated in three hearings with school officials and spoken about her son’s experiences at a board meeting in November, Huynh added. 

In the district’s latest reply to Huynh’s grievance appeal, seen by NBC News, a request for the stay-away agreement was denied due to the “incident occurring at the end of the 2022-2023 school year” and that a “safety plan” had been put in place at the middle school that included regular check-ins with a counselor and the assurance that Huynh’s son wouldn’t share a class with the offending students. 

Sprague Middle School did not return NBC News’ request for comment. A statement from the Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District sent to local outlet ABC13 only stated that the district’s leadership had met with the parents. The district also did not say how or if the offending students had been disciplined, citing the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, a law that protects the privacy of student education records.

“If an investigated complaint has an affirmative determination of inappropriate behavior, the campus assigns an appropriate discipline consequence according to the Student Code of Conduct,” the district said. 

Huynh’s request to reinstate the district’s “Resolution Condemning Racism” was also denied. The resolution, unanimously passed in 2020 but since scrapped, had in part adopted a “No Place for Hate” program from the nonprofit Anti-Defamation League, aimed at addressing bias and bullying. In its place is a new character education program. 

The district’s response stated that the elementary school did not have the authority to reinstate the resolution. 

LauraAnn Novacinsk, principal of McGown Elementary School, did not return NBC News’ request for comment. 

Huynh is expected to receive a response to her latest appeal by this week. She said if the district doesn’t meet her demands, she will continue fighting, escalating the issue to the Texas Education Agency.

“At the end of the day, this is a public school,” she said. “It should be fair and equitable for all of the students, and it’s not.”

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