FOREST, Va. (WFXR) — Bedford County Public Schools wants to enter into a resolution agreement with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) after complaints of an alleged racially hostile environment.
The complaint was made against Jefferson Forest High School in far northeast Bedford County.
“A concerned citizen has the right to file a complaint with the Office of Civil Rights with the Department of Education and the Department of Education’s perspective is they like to get resolutions. That’s their primary function here, is to bring the parties together,” says John Fishwick, a civil rights attorney.
A spokesperson for Bedford County Public Schools issued a statement Friday evening in reference to the proposed resolution agreement.
“The school division firmly believes that it has not violated any federal civil rights laws,” said the statement. “Upon receiving the notice, the school division promptly complied with OCR’s request for information and records related to the allegations.”
The statement did not provide specifics of the allegation, but earlier this year Jefferson Forest High School was at the center of controversy when students were photographed posing with a Confederate flag inside the school. The school board voted to change the school division’s dress code following the incident.
“People have got to be not intimidated when they go to school, they can’t be afraid, and they can’t feel like they’re being oppressed. So it is critical that our governments and our citizens make sure every child in this country goes to a school where they’re not intimidated and they’re not afraid,” says Fishwick.
The resolution agreement with the OCR says Bedford County Public Schools (referred to as the “Division” in the resolution agreement) will:
- By November 30, conduct “refresher training” for Jefferson Forest High School Administrators about the Division’s policies and procedures;
- Evaluate reports of racial and national origin harassment at Jefferson Forest High School during the 2018-2019 school year to determine whether the Division needs to take additional steps to fully investigate any of the reports;
- By December 31, administer a climate survey to all students at Jefferson Forest High School using age-appropriate language and terminology, to assess the extent and impact of racial and national origin harassment within the school community, including racial and national origin harassment by students on social media that may impact the school community;
- By February 15, 2020, the Division shall review the results of the survey and the result of all investigations of racial and national origin harassment to determine whether a hostile environment base on race or national origin existed for any specific students and/or for the school as a whole;
- By January 15, 2020, the Division shall take appropriate steps to ensure that Jefferson Forest High School staff, students, and parents received information regarding the Division’s policies and Code of Student Conduct provisions prohibiting racial and national origin harassment; what constituents such harassment, and more.
“From my perspective, it looks like the school system wanted to get ahead of this problem, so they’re not admitting any wrongdoing. And at the same time, they’ve taken responsibility for this action,” says Fishwick.
WFXR reached out to the U.S. Department of Education. A spokesperson with the department says, “While the school division has signed a resolution agreement, a resolution letter has not been issued and the matter is still pending.”
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