Minnesota School District Enters Into Five Year Consent Degree with Department of Justice and the Office of Civil Rights in Resolution of Peer-on-Peer Harassment and Discrimination Claims Based Upon Sex and Sexual Orientation

The Anoka-Hennepin school district (District) in Minnesota recently entered into a five year consent decree with the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and the U.S. Dept. of Education, Office of Civil Rights (OCR) to resolve two separate actions brought by six current or former district students alleging peer-on-peer harassment and discrimination based upon sex and sexual orientation. The actions were brought against the district, its school board and several individual school administrators.

The negotiated consent decree provides for detailed remedial measures aimed at eliminating and preventing future instances of harassment in its education programs and activities and also requires payment of $270,000 to the plaintiffs in full settlement of the Title IV and Title IX claims. 

The agreed upon measures under the consent decree are numerous, varied and comprehensive. They range from required policy reviews and revisions (including a revision to provide that all harassment, including that based upon non-conformity to gender stereotypes and/or gender identity and expression, is prohibited in the District), to appointment of both a District Title IX Coordinator to address sex based harassment and an Equity Coordinator to focus solely on sexual orientation–based harassment. Other remedial measures to be undertaken by the District include: adoption of procedures for electronic tracking of  harassment incidents involving sex-based or sexual orientation based harassment; the hiring of a third party consultant to review policies, procedures and advise and oversee the District’s success in implementing the required changes;  student and employee education and training; expansion of the District’s existing anti-bullying/anti-harassment task force; identification of harassment hot-spots in its middle and high schools; adoption of peer leadership program in its middle and high schools for addressing harassment; the continuation of the Superintendent’s annual meeting with  students at every middle and high school; and implementation of a program to monitor and assess the effectiveness of its anti-harassment efforts including administering anti-bullying surveys.

The remedial measures under the consent decree mirror many of the newly adopted responsibilities placed on Connecticut school districts under our state’s recently revised bullying statute. The statute has called for school districts to undertake a comprehensive approach to prevent bullying and create a positive school climate. This case should also be of high interest to the Connecticut educational community in light of the bullying legislation as well as legislation passed last spring specifically prohibiting discrimination based upon gender identity or gender expression. What are your schools doing proactively in response to this potential type of discrimination?  


OCR: No Special Education Notation on School Transcripts

OCR's guidance letter issued October 17, 2008 In Re: Report Cards and Transcripts for Students with Disabilities, 108 LRP 60114 (OCR 2008) clarifies that references to special education services received by a student are acceptable on report cards intended for parent use in measuring student progress, but not acceptable on transcripts that may be disclosed to employers and post-secondary institutions.

The letter from OCR notes that local education agencies (LEA's) frequently make distinctions on report cards between general education classes, Advanced Placement, honors, and remedial levels, and special education classes may be similarly noted on report cards.  For example, OCR uses the case of a modified 10th grade literature curriculum noted by using an asterisk or other symbol meant to reference the modified curriculum "as long as the statements on the report card, including the asterisks, symbols or other coding, provide an explanation of the student's progress that is as informative and effective as the explanation provided for students without disabilities".

Special notations, such as asterisks or symbols, are also permissible on report cards for students with disabilities receiving accommodations under Section 504 not affecting course content or curriculum, such as sign language interpreters, alternative materials, or extra time on tests.  Further, in response to the question as to whether a report card for a student with a disability may simply refer to another document that more fully describes the student's progress, OCR responded "yes".

On the other hand, a transcript of student grades may not inform the reader that the student has a disability, has been enrolled in a special education program, or has received special education and related services.  Why? "A student's transcript generally is intended to inform postsecondary institutions or prospective employers of a student's academic credentials and achievements.  Information that a student has a disability, or has received special education or related services due to having a disability, does not constitute information about the student's academic credentials and achievements."

However, it is still permissible, according to OCR, for the transcript of a student with a disability to indicate, through notations or asterisks or other symbols, that the student took classes with a modified curriculum or alternate education curriculum.  This is consistent with the ability of the transcript to reflect other levels of classes, such as Advanced Placement, honors, basic, and remedial instruction. 

The transcript may not contain notations that a general education student received accommodations in general education under Section 504 such as use of Braille materials, because such a notation is irrelevant to the question of whether the student mastered the curriculum of the class and would only be for the purpose of identifying the student as a student with a visual impairment.

The transcript may indicate that the student received a certificate of attendance or other similar document, if such a notation does not disclose whether the student has a disability.