City Schools of Decatur settled two discrimination complaints in 2018The Decatur School Board met on Feb. 12, 2019. File photo by Sara Amis
City Schools of Decatur in 2018 settled two discrimination complaints filed with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, records obtained by Decaturish show.
Both complaints allege the school district discriminated against students with disabilities. A third OCR complaint filed in 2018, alleging that a gender fluid boy assaulted a girl in a bathroom at Oakhurst Elementary, remains unresolved. But the organization pushing that complaint, Alliance Defending Freedom, has put the school district on notice that it plans to file a lawsuit related to those allegations.
District officials declined to comment on the 2018 settlements of the two complaints filed on behalf of students with disabilities.
“There is no additional information we can provide beyond the information already provided by OCR as these are cases of individual students,” CSD spokesperson Courtney Burnett said.
Both of the complaints CSD settled were filed in early 2018.
A complaint filed in January 2018 accused the school system of failing to properly implement a student’s Individualized Education Program [IEP] in the 2017-2018 school year. The complaint did not specify which school the student attended during that time.
Before OCR completed its investigation, the school district said it wanted to resolve the complaint.
The OCR letter to the district says, “Pursuant to the terms of the resolution agreement, the district will convene an IEP meeting to determine whether the student requires compensatory and/or remedial services for any alleged failure by the district to implement the student’s IEP provisions of assistive technology and vocabulary lists for units and lessons during the 2017-18 school year; and, if so, within one week of its determination, the group will develop a plan for providing timely compensatory and/or remedial services with a completion date not to extend beyond May 1, 2019.”
The second complaint was filed in February 2018 and identifies the school involved as the 4/5 Academy at Fifth Avenue. Burnett said the previously mentioned complaint filed in January 2018 was for another school and did not involve the 4/5 Academy.
The complaint filed in February 2018 accuses the school system of failing to implement a student’s Section 504 plan. According to Greatschools.org, Section 504 stems from the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.
“Section 504 is an anti-discrimination, civil rights statute that requires the needs of students with disabilities to be met as adequately as the needs of the non-disabled are met,” the website says.
The letter from OCR says the person who filed the complaint “also alleged that the District retaliated against the student by removing her picture from the school yearbook and giving her personal belongings in her locker to another student after she left the school in April 2017, after she reported that the student’s Section 504 plan was not being followed in November 2016.”
OCR’s investigation concluded the student was not in the yearbook because the person filing the complaint withdrew the student from the school on March 31, 2017.
After further investigation of this claim, OCR concluded the school had a “legitimate, non-discriminatory reason” for removing the photo.
“Based on a preponderance of the evidence standard, OCR finds that there is insufficient evidence that the teacher retaliated against the student by intentionally omitting her picture from the yearbook,” the letter from OCR to the School District says. “Although there is some evidence indicating that the teacher was unsure whether the student was enrolled as of April 10, 2017, both the complainant and the district agree that the student did not return to the school after March 31, 2017.”
As in the January 2018 complaint, district officials opted to resolve the issue before OCR completed its investigation.
Under the terms of the resolution agreement, “By September 14, 2018, the district will provide training for all administrators, school psychologists, and teachers at 4/5 Academy (school) regarding the requirements of Section 504 and requirements related to Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE), including the implementation of Section 504 plans. The training will include information on [the student’s disability] and its co-morbidities. The training will also include information on the prohibition against retaliation against students and their parents who file complaints of disability discrimination.”
Burnett had no updates regarding Alliance Defending Freedom’s complaint about the alleged 2017 assault of a 5-year-old girl in the Oakhurst Elementary bathroom. Vernadette Broyles, an attorney representing a group of parents opposed to City Schools of Decatur’s Transgender students policy, filed the complaint on behalf of the victim of the alleged assault. She could not immediately respond to a message seeking comment about the status of the case.
Alliance Defending Freedom in May 2018 sent a letter to the school system an Ante Litem notice of its intent to file a lawsuit over the alleged incident.
The mother of the girl is requesting a $300,000 settlement and a change of the school system’s policy that transgender students are treated according to their preferred gender identity.
The notice also said the school system shall not conceal or destroy any evidence related to the case.
School officials maintain the assault allegations were “unfounded” and that the boy accused of the assault is not gender fluid. A police report also identifies the alleged assailant as a boy.
Decaturish interviewed child abuse experts who were skeptical of the allegation. They questioned whether the child’s alleged gender fluid status had any bearing on the case and why two students would be simultaneously allowed to leave a classroom to go to the restroom.
Most were surprised to hear about a 5-year-old being accused of a crime like the one described in the ADF complaint.
Roy Lubit, an expert certified in forensic psychiatry, child psychiatry and general psychiatry, said, “This particular case may not have occurred, but if someone is going to assault others, if he had to go to the boy’s room there’s a very good chance he would’ve assaulted a boy.”
Burnett previously said that adults monitor when students leave a classroom to go to the bathroom. The district also maintains that under the policy, students are not able to change their gender preference at a whim. Superintendent David Dude said if a boy decided to go into a girls’ bathroom, the boy would not be allowed to enter and would be dealt with via the school system’s code of conduct.
James Radford, City Schools of Decatur’s outside counsel, has said he is optimistic the federal investigation will vindicate the school system.