In the States: Office of Civil Rights Enters Agreements with California and Iowa School Districts
The new “In the States” feature by Kaitlyn Brennan is a weekly update to keep members informed on state-level activities impacting the education and educator preparation community.
OCR Enters Resolution Agreement with (California) Davis Joint Unified School District
This week, the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) announced that the Davis Joint Unified School District in California has entered into a resolution agreement to ensure that its restraint and seclusion policies and practices do not deny students with disabilities a free appropriate public education (FAPE).
OCR determined that the district placed three of its students with disabilities in nonpublic school settings and violated their rights under Section 504 and Title II because the district:
- Failed to ensure that district staff making placement decisions for these students had access to and carefully considered information obtained about the use of physical restraint and/or seclusion with these students.
- Separately failed to ensure that those making decisions regarding behavioral interventions for these students were knowledgeable about each student, the meaning of the evaluation data, and the placement.
- Failed to reevaluate these students to determine whether the repeated use of restraint and seclusion for these students denied them a FAPE and if additional aids and services were appropriate to provide a FAPE. And,
- Denied a FAPE to all three students based on the above failures and resulting harms to the students.
Throughout the investigation, OCR found that one of the students died after being subjected to a prolonged restraint.
In a statement, Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Catherine E. Lhamon said:
“I am grateful for Davis Joint Unified School District’s commitment to take important steps to ensure that its students with disabilities are not denied a free and appropriate public education as a result of the use of restraint or seclusion whether they are placed in district schools or nonpublic school settings…The tragic death of a child subjected to prolonged and repeated restraint at a school placement through this district underscores the urgency for school communities everywhere to carefully examine their restraint and seclusion practices to safeguard children in their care, in addition to their obligation to satisfy the federal civil rights laws we enforce.”
OCR Announces Resolution of a Racial Harassment Complaint Filed Against (Iowa) Ottumwa Community School District
On Monday, The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) announced the resolution of a racial harassment complaint filed against Ottumwa Community School District in Iowa. OCR determined that during the course of school years 2020-21 and 2021-22 district students subjected a Black middle school student to racial harassment so pervasive that it constituted a racially hostile environment and that the district failed to take necessary steps to protect the student, in violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and its implementing regulations.
In a statement, the Department notes that OCR also found that even though the district had notice of possible ongoing harassment, the district disregarded its obligations to investigate whether its response to the reported harassment was effective in eliminating the hostile environment, whether it addressed the cumulative effect of the incidents on the harassed student and addressed the impact the verified wide-spread conduct may have had on other students.
The district’s commitments in the voluntary resolution agreement include:
- Reimbursing the student’s parent for documented expenses incurred related to past and future therapeutic services resulting from the racially hostile environment.
- Publishing an anti-harassment statement stating that the district does not tolerate acts of harassment, including acts of harassment based on a student’s race, color, or national origin.
- Reviewing and revising its policies and procedures to address Title VI’s prohibition of harassment based on race, color, or national origin.
- Providing training to district staff regarding the district’s obligation to respond to complaints of harassment based on race, color, or national origin.
- Providing age-appropriate information programs for students to address harassment based on race, color, or national origin. And,
- Conducting a climate survey to assess the prevalence of harassment in the student’s former school and provide suggestions for effective ways to address harassment.