Office for Civil Rights
Annual Report to Congress FY 2005

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Encouraging Safe Schools

OCR also supports those provisions of the No Child Left Behind Act focusing on safe schools.  Harassment in schools can deny students the right to an education free of discrimination, threaten students’ physical or emotional well-being, influence how well they do in school, and make it difficult for students to achieve their career goals.   Preventing and remedying harassment in schools is essential to ensuring a safe environment in which students can learn.

Racial Harassment

OCR investigated a complaint alleging racial harassment by an assistant football coach in a school district.  OCR found a racially hostile environment had developed when a student on the football team was called a racially derogatory term by the assistant coach, in the presence of another student, and when another member of the coaching staff, in front of other students, used racially derogatory terms in reference to a student’s parent.  In response to OCR’s findings, the district agreed to:  develop and provide training for members of the athletic department regarding racial harassment and what to do about it; publish a notice to the school community regarding racial discrimination and harassment and a description of the school’s complaint process; send a notice to all students and parents of students on the football team expressing regret about the incident, confirming the district’s commitment to preventing harassment, outlining the steps taken in response, and inviting students or parents to report similar incidents to school administrators or counselors; and send letters of regret to the two students most affected by the harassment.

The “American Dream” isn’t guaranteed.  We’ve got to go out and earn it.  After putting our best foot forward, victory should not be snatched away by incidents of discrimination…what lies at the core of civil rights enforcement is the notion that personal responsibility plus opportunity yields success.  That prosperity can come to those who’ve put their best foot forward.  That it’s the business of enforcement officials to ferret out discrimination so that [these] obstacles don’t impede their progress… .

 Michael L. Williams,
Former Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights, 1991

Racial and Disability Harassment

OCR received a complaint alleging a special education student enrolled in a school district had been subjected to harassment based on race and disability.  OCR’s investigation found the student and other minority students with disabilities were subjected to derogatory name-calling by other students.  As part of its corrective action agreement, which will be monitored by OCR, the district provided information about harassment to district students and conducted training for regular and special education teachers, administrators, and other staff at the school addressing appropriate responses to racial and disability harassment, as well as notice and reporting requirements.
Sexual Harassment

OCR received a complaint from a parent who alleged a school district failed to respond to allegations that her son was retaliated against and harassed at school and during school-sponsored activities for participating as a witness in a sexual harassment complaint filed with the district.   The school district agreed to revise its procedures to prohibit retaliation for participating in a sexual harassment investigation, resolve promptly and equitably allegations of sexual harassment brought to its attention, and notify staff, students, and parents of these procedures.  

In another case, a complainant alleged a college failed to take appropriate action after she complained a fellow student was sexually harassing her.   She further alleged the college retaliated against her by denying her financial aid because she filed a sexual harassment complaint at the college and refused to sign an agreement.  OCR negotiated an early complaint resolution in which the college agreed to provide financial aid, guidance, and tutoring to the complainant. The college also accepted OCR’s offer to train staff on Title IX and how to address sexual harassment.

Sexual Harassment in Special Education Classes

OCR received a complaint from an individual who alleged her daughter was subjected to sexual harassment in her special education classes. In response to OCR’s investigation, the school district revised its policies and procedures to address sexual harassment complaints, provided training to staff at each of the district’s schools and reviewed its policies and procedures regarding discrimination on the basis of sex and disability, sexual harassment, and the role of staff in these procedures.   The district also publicized these policies and the grievance procedures to parents in a newspaper advertisement, a letter to parents, and a special edition of the district’s newsletter.

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Last Modified: 11/01/2007