Monday, October 24, 2011

District Settles Charges with Office of Civil Rights

On Thursday, our Board of Education will be reviewing a proposed settlement agreement with the Department of Office of Civil Rights to resolve complaints filed by CAIR - Minneapolis about 18 months ago.    

At the time that the complaints were initially filed, the District carefully reviewed each of the complaints and it was quite clear that the District had not violated federal civil rights laws.  When we examined the facts, we found examples of  Somali students with legitimate grievances against fellow students.  We also found examples of non-Somali students with legitimate grievances against fellow students.  And,  we found many of the complaints were completely untrue.   But the overwhelming sweep of the evidence was that teachers and administrators had promptly and properly addressed issues that came to them.  

Representatives of the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) visited our district.  If they had found examples of civil rights violations, we would have taken prompt remedial action, but they did not identify any.  We instructed our attorney to bring us any evidence, any at all, identified by the Office of Civil Rights that suggested that the District violated civil rights laws.  To be blunt, we feel very strongly that if we demanded that the Office of Civil Rights go ahead with its charging process, we are very confident that we would prevail.   At the Board meeting on Thursday, members will most likely discuss why would then enter into an agreement, since the OCR has not provided us with any evidence that we have violated the law.  

Part of the reason for entering into an agreement is that the agreement doesn't require us to do anything that is bad for students or bad for our school district.   The concept of the agreement is this.  Why would we spend more taxpayer money examining something that happened 18 months ago (or should I say, something that didn't happen) when we can resolve the matter by doing things that we want to do anyway.  
  • The agreement doesn't give any special class of students special rights.  The policies we have adopted will protect all students equally.  
  • The agreement doesn't make us implement policies that we disagree with.  
  • The agreement requires us to have policies in place that provide a remedy to any students (not just Somali students) who have harassment concerns.   We have adopted theses policies already, and we firmly believe that the policies we have adopted are good for all students.   
  • The agreement does not require us to treat any students better than any other students.   If it did, we would not be signing it.   (this is worth saying twice)
  • To implement the agreement, we have "agreed" to adopt a Code of Conduct.   We were happy to offer to make that proposal, because we had already developed a Code of Conduct and had decided to adopt it anyway.  After signing this agreement, we will have the same code of conduct in place that we adopted several months ago.  
  • The agreement does not suggest that we have violated the law, does not require us to pay any money to anyone, nor does it require that we hire consultants to "fix" our school district.
The procedures we have adopted, and the few that we are about to adopt, create more consistent transparent procedures that give all students a venue to seek protection when they are being harassed by other students.   That means that if a student of any background, White, Somali, African American, or whatever, or their parents, have concerns about student safety, they will know where those concerns can be addressed.   By better documenting the resolution of concerns, we provide more protection for all our students.  Moreover, by establishing a more consistent documentation of internal resolution of future incidents,  we protect our staff against future bogus charges.

I want to emphasize that nobody in our school district is minimizing the issue of harassment in public schools.   When I say that there was clearly no civil rights violation, I am not suggesting that students are never harassed in our school district.   Of course that happens.  Nor am I suggesting that we should tolerate harassment, ever. Our community has some work to do to assure that we provide a welcoming environment for immigrants.  Some of our Somali students have some work to do, especially when they first come to our community, to understand what is expected of them in school.   What we must do--what all schools must do-- is to constantly work to create a welcoming atmosphere, protective of the rights of all students while maintaining high standards of student conduct.    The agreement we proposed to the OCR supports those things because doing that is good for students and teachers, and because it puts this episode behind us.

No comments:

Post a Comment

comments welcome