Westport school board under federal investigation
Updated 7:45 pm, Thursday, March 2, 2017
WESTPORT — Allegations claiming school officials grabbed and shook a student complaining of harassment are part of two federal investigations into town schools.
The investigations, opened on
Nov. 9 by the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights, focus on allegations of racial and sexual discrimination found under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
A spokesman for the U.S. Department of Education confirmed the inquiries.
Federal investigations in surrounding towns
Fairfield Board of Education: Two open investigations
Investigation opened: 8/9/2013 — possible disability-related discrimination (free appropriate public education (FAPE))
Investigation opened: 9/20/2016 — possible disability-related discrimination (FAPE; retaliation; harassment)
Darien Board of Education: one open investigation
Investigation opened: 5/23/2016 — possible disability-related discrimination (accessibility of online course, distance learning, website, remote application)
Wilton Board of Education: four open investigations
Investigation opened: 12/15/2014 — possible disability-related discrimination (evaluation and placement; retaliation)
Investigation opened: 11/7/2016 — possible disability-related discrimination (placement procedures; adoption of grievance procedures)
Investigation opened: 11/7/2016 — possible disability-related discrimination (adoption of grievance procedures; designation of responsible employee; retaliation)
Investigation opened: 12/13/2016 — possible disability-related discrimination (placement procedures)
Ridgefield School District: one open investigation
Investigation opened: 7/15/2013 — possible disability-related discrimination (placement procedures); Title IX (sexual harassment - gender stereotyping; different treatment/exclusion/denial of benefits/other)
No open investigations: Bridgeport Board of Education; Greenwich Board of Education; Weston Board of Education
Reported bullying incidents for 2015-16 school year
Greenwich School District: 7
New Britain School District: 10
New Canaan School District: Data suppressed
Norwalk School District: 10
Ridgefield School District: Data suppressed
Wilton School District: Data suppressed
Regional School District 9: Data suppressed
Westport School District: 8
2015-16 was an outlier for Westport. Since 2012, the Westport School District has seen 10 bullying incidents.
“Eventually, there will be a complaint filed by families in town against the Westport school system,” Iacurci said. “There would be a number of grounds ... one of the grounds would include violations of Connecticut’s current bullying laws. Connecticut has an anti-bullying statute in place, but there are other causes of action for the suit. There has been no decision on the exact moment to file the lawsuit.”
Iacurci said his clients would be seeking damages for suffering.
“So whether it includes an apology, or some specific acts by the school or some sort of monetary damages, those are all on the table for some sort of resolution,” he said. “We’re not looking for one particular thing; we’re looking for justice for the damage that’s been incurred. The lawsuit would not be limited to the Westport Board of Education.”
A partially redacted letter — addressed to the Board of Education from the Office for Civil Rights obtained by the Westport News — outlines allegations a school principal and a guidance counselor grabbed and shook a student.
“Specifically, you alleged that the Board retaliated against the Student as follows: the principal and guidance counselor grabbed the Student and shook him during a conversation about his complaints of harassment; the Board issued a two-day in school suspension to the student; the Board issued a two-day out of school suspension to the Student; the Board prohibited you from communicating directly with the Board regarding the Student; and the Board proposed to send the Student to a different school based on the Board’s suggestion that the student has a disability.”
It also alleges “... peers subjected him to harassing behavior ... including calling the Student derogatory names based on his race and sex, and that the Board failed to respond appropriately.”
When asked about the investigations, Superintendent of Schools Colleen Palmer declined to comment.
In a Jan. 31 interview, Palmer said, “I am aware of some complaints that have come in. I just don’t know the status.”
Michael Gordon, chairman of the Westport Board of Education, said: “the board does not comment on investigations of school district employees.”