Complaints lead to training on bullying in Duluth schools

The Duluth school district agreed to provide training on bullying and harassment after the parent of a Woodland Middle School student filed a complaint last year with the U.S. Department of Education, alleging that her son was harassed and discri...

The Duluth school district agreed to provide training on bullying and harassment after the parent of a Woodland Middle School student filed a complaint last year with the U.S. Department of Education, alleging that her son was harassed and discriminated against because of his disabilities.

That information was made public this week in documents released in response to a Duluth News Tribune request under the Freedom of Information Act.

The complaint, filed with the education department's Office for Civil Rights, resulted in a mediated agreement between the family and the district. Documents show the district agreed to several actions meant to be completed this fall.

The complainant alleged in January that the district discriminated against her son based on his disabilities when it failed to provide him instruction in two classes for three weeks in September 2009. His disabilities include Asperger's disorder, epilepsy and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, according to the agreement letter.

The complaint also says the student dealt with a hostile environment during the 2009-10 school year when he was subjected to harassment because of his disabilities. Staff members who received complaints from his family didn't respond appropriately, the complaint says. It also says the district discriminated against eighth-grade students with disabilities at Woodland by failing to provide them with math textbooks.


District spokeswoman Katie Kaufman said Tuesday that when the student's family brought concerns to school officials last year, staff worked to discipline those involved and to develop a plan to "try to help the student feel safe." The issue of instruction was related to a specific service to be provided to the student and access to materials to take home, Kaufman said, noting the issue was resolved within the first week of school.

Because of privacy laws, the student's name was not made public by either the federal government or the school district.

In April, the district signed an "early complaint resolution agreement" with the complainant.

Kaufman said the Office for Civil Rights initiated an investigation and provided mediation toward an agreement to voluntarily resolve the allegations.

The district agreed to provide the student with six hours of compensatory services and to assign a trained administrator to make a monthly review of all complaints made to the district alleging bullying, intimidation or harassment, and to give sanctions consistent with district policies.

It also agreed to train middle and high school staff and students on bullying and harassment policies and punishments, and to show a video about bullying. Staff members also were to be trained in reporting bullying incidents.

The student involved in the complaint was to be provided with supervision in hallways, cafeteria and other "unstructured" times of the day for the rest of last year to ensure his "safety and emotional well-being."

The student mainly responsible for the bullying was to be in separate classes from the victim for the rest of the year, and the situation reviewed on an annual basis, the agreement says.


The complainant withdrew the charge about math textbooks, saying it was resolved.

If the agreement is broken, the complainant must file a new complaint.

The district said in a release issued Tuesday that it already was doing work for a pilot program on bullying and harassment, begun two years ago. Some of that work was used in developing the agreement with the Office for Civil Rights.

"Our current efforts to address bullying and harassment go beyond the OCR agreement," the release says.

The school district has updated its student handbook and consequences for serious behaviors, according to the district. Some student groups received training this fall, and the rest, including elementary students, will receive training in January. The district is including elementary students, although it's not required as part of the agreement.

School principals, administrators within the district's human resources office and the district's violence and harassment prevention specialist review bullying complaints.

Bullying/intimidation/harassment policy

No student may intentionally hurt another person, either physically or psychologically. Students may not participate in or conspire with others to engage in harassing acts that injure, degrade or disgrace other individuals. No student may intentionally or knowingly cause physical contact with another person when the student knows or should reasonably believe that the other will regard the contact as offensive or provocative.


Source: School Discipline Policy, Independent School District 709

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