Holding districts accountable: Which York schools have had civil rights complaints?
The Dover Area school board is expected to approve a settlement Tuesday with a former student who filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the district and the teacher who repeatedly sexually assaulted her.
The agreement announced Wednesday effectively ended the trial in Harrisburg’s federal court three days after it began.
In fact, most civil rights complaints filed against York County school districts over the past three years were either dismissed or settled before they reached a courtroom.
Last month, ProPublica released the status of all U.S. Department of Education civil rights cases against school districts and colleges during the past three years.
According to the project, which includes a searchable database of cases, the DOE investigates thousands of districts and colleges throughout the country each year, for violations ranging from racial discrimination in school discipline to sexual violence.
Of York County’s 16 districts, 14 had cases against them — as did the York County School of Technology. There were 27 total cases.
The Dover Area civil lawsuit was not one of them, since the database only includes those investigated by the DOE. The department often investigates complaints for families who cannot afford a lawyer, said Annie Waldman, one of the ProPublica reporters for the project.
Most of the DOE cases were resolved without issue.
According to ProPublica, cases listed as “resolved with no findings of violations or corrective change” had insufficient evidence of noncompliance or the claims were dismissed or administratively closed.
These were cases the department's Office for Civil Rights reported and resolved between Jan. 20, 2015, and May 2, 2018, with an additional 220 from ProPublica — the majority resolved in a two-week period in December 2017 — that were omitted from DOE’s data.
Only three cases from York County schools had “findings of violations or corrective change,” meaning the OCR settled through a resolution agreement, enforcement, a complaint mediation process or other involvement.
Racial harassment: Eastern York School District had two cases — one with a violation, opened Aug. 10, 2015, and resolved Sept. 23 of the same year.
According to the complaint, obtained from the OCR through a Right to Know request, a female student received text messages with racial and sexual slurs on the school bus, and by April of that year — following the riots in Baltimore — “was continually asked by white students, 'Why do black people have to make everything about race?'”
The complaint listed other instances of discrimination, such as the student being called the “n” word multiple times in the middle and high school and being told to “go back to Africa” on several occasions.
By July, she was getting random phone calls with racial slurs, the complaint reads.
The person who filed the complaint requested that her child be transferred to another district, according to the document.
“There is a pattern in this school district that I think someone needs to look into," the complainant writes. "All the African-American students in the past usually leave around the 11th grade. I believe this is happening because they are being targeted.”
The OCR sent a letter to then-Superintendent Darla Pianowski Aug. 25, also obtained through an RTK request, stating the complainant alleged that the district did not respond adequately to reports of harassment that spring.
The complainant entered into an Early Complaint Resolution agreement with the district on Sept. 23.
As part of the agreement, obtained from the OCR through an RTK, the district agreed to review its racial discrimination/harassment policies and procedures, and at minimum, add possible steps the district would take to immediately respond to harassing behaviors.
The district also agreed to provide training to its faculty, staff and administration on these policies and procedures, as well as racial discrimination training or an information session for parents and students during back to school night, the agreement states.
Disability discrimination: The York City School District had three cases, but only one with a violation — opened Nov. 14, 2016, and closed July 7, 2017.
The complaint, obtained from the OCR through an RTK request, alleges that the district violated the Americans with Disabilities Act, which prohibits “discrimination on the basis of disability in federally funded programs and activities."
According to the document, several of the district's webpages were not accessible to those with vision and print disabilities or fine motor impairments.
The complainant requested that the district conduct a comprehensive evaluation of its website, create new web content to meet accessibility standards and see that staff is trained on those standards, the document states.
In order to resolve the issue prior to the completion of the OCR's investigation, the district submitted a resolution agreement, with a reaffirmation of its commitment to ensure those with disabilities have equal opportunity in their programs, benefits and services.
The agreement, obtained from the OCR through an RTK, also included the district's commitment to have the website audited for accessibility, make appropriate changes and submit a plan for new website content for review to the OCR, to ensure it adheres to standards.
If there is undue burden to the district in modifying content, alternate access to information will be provided, the agreement states.
Appropriate personnel will receive accessibility training, according to the agreement.
Resolved complaints: Northeastern School District had two cases, one of which had a violation — opened Jan. 21, 2016, and closed June 22, 2016 — but most of the allegations were marked as having insufficient evidence, with one noting that the allegation failed to state a violation, according to the ProPublica database.
Only one allegation, with the subject being "adoption of grievance procedures," was resolved with a resolution agreement, the database shows.
Of those districts with no findings, York Suburban and West Shore school districts had the most cases against them — four each.
Issues in non-finding cases involved the following subject areas: different treatment/exclusion/denial of benefits; disability harassment; interests and abilities; pre-placement evaluation; and free appropriate public education for students with disabilities.
South Western and West York school districts did not appear in search results, and there were no open cases for any of the districts in York County.