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Parents of Native American basketball players file federal complaint over racist taunts at game

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — The parents of two Native American players on a North Dakota high school basketball team are seeking a federal investigation into racist taunts their sons endured during a game in January.

The parents of Andre Austin and Teysean Eaglestaff filed a discrimination complaint earlier this month with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights seeking the investigation into an incident during a game between Bismarck High School and Jamestown High School on Jan. 31.

Monkey noises and war whooping could be heard coming from the Jamestown student section during the game when the Native American Bismarck players handled the ball, the Bismarck Tribune reported.

Austin is a member of the Standing Rock Sioux and Eaglestaff is a member of the Cheyenne River Sioux.

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Tim Purdon, an attorney for the parents, Savannah Alkire and Quinn Austin, and Kate and Lance Eaglestaff, said the families are seeking accountability from the Jamestown School District and a meeting with the North Dakota High School Activities Association.

Jamestown District Superintendent Robert Lech declined to comment because the district has not received the complaint, the Tribune reported.

The Jamestown district's athletic director received a reprimand for allegedly not addressing the taunts during the game and “a handful” of students were disciplined after a Jamestown district investigation.

The students' discipline ranged from suspension from school to loss of leadership positions, Lech told Alkire and Purdon in an email May 17.

Lech said the district took other steps, including better oversight of the student section at games and efforts to “improve school culture and establish schoolwide expectations.”

The families do not believe that is an adequate response, Purdon said.

“The superintendent’s decision is part of what we’re asking to be investigated,” he said.

The parents also are seeking a meeting with the North Dakota High School Activities Association to discuss a proposed zero-tolerance policy and permanent representation of reservation-based school districts on the association board. The families have not been contacted by the association, Purdon said.

NDHSAA spokesman Tom Mix said Monday association officials were not available for comment. Mix and Lech did not immediately return messages seeking comment on Tuesday.

After the January game, the high school sports association created a Sportsmanship and Citizenship Committee “to help promote positive behaviors at NDHSAA events and competitions.”

The United Tribes of North Dakota, which represents all five tribal nations in the state, passed a resolution in February calling for a zero-tolerance policy that would include training, “clearly defined rules and regulations,” “severe” punishments for such incidents, and “proactive measures” to help prevent acts of racism.