[April 2017] Protection effectiveness against bullying in question after federal investigation


By: Max Appell ’18 and Zach Horowitz ’19

The Westport Board of Education went under federal investigation on Nov. 9 due to claims that schoProl officials from one of Westport’s middle schools grabbed and shook a student who had filed a complaint about being bullied.The specifics of the bullying allegations qualified as violations of the Title IX and Title VI amendments. But federal investigations of schools are not rare; other boards of education in the state of Connecticut have also undergone federal investigations.
Title IX states that, “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”
Title VI enforces a similar rule by declaring that discrimination based on race, color or national origin in programs or activities that receive federal funding is prohibited.
Generally, Title IX cases and investigations are handled with the Office of Civil Rights referred to as “a vehicle through which complaints can be made, concerns can be articulated,” Superintendent of Westport Schools Dr. Colleen Palmer, said.
“The whole idea is to resolve situations where individuals [feel] either they’ve been discriminated against, obviously not treated fairly, for a reason that is not legal,” Palmer added. “That might be their gender, their age, their race, ethnic background, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability.”
While Title IX is commonly known for its role in gender equality with athletics, what is frequently overlooked is an additional category that pertains to sexual harassment and sexual violence.
Every high school is required to assign a faculty member as a Title IX coordinator. According to the US Department of Justice, the Title IX coordinator “is the responsible employee of the recipient with major responsibility for Title IX compliance efforts.”
Staples’ Title IX coordinator is Assistant Principal Richard Francis. Staples has dealt with 12 Title IX cases dating back to spring 2016.
“I think you guys [Staples students] get a lot of upfront education, I think even in the health classes you probably address sexual harassment,” Franzis said when discussing how these investigations can be prevented. He went on to talk about the nature of sex education specifically, saying, “You can’t make jokes of a sexual nature or make sexual advances that are unwelcome. Obviously, the more students know, the better off that they are.”
There are currently eight open federal investigations in the surrounding towns of Fairfield, Wilton and Darien, according to an article written by Chris Marquette of Westport News. However, these federal investigations differ from the one brought against Westport as they all deal with alleged disability discrimination.
“This year we haven’t had to do an investigation on [disability discrimination]” Principal James D’Amico said. “In large part that is because of all of the support we put into place. When a student has a disability and we become aware of [it] […] we have a great team of people who provide whatever accommodations they may need.”
But D’Amico explained that even with past incidents, Staples works to ensure a safe environment for students and makes sure that they are comfortable and willing to speak to administration about issues concerning their academic lives.
Palmer agreed with D’Amico. “We strive in our district and I believe every school district in Connecticut and beyond,” Palmer said. “We want to make sure everyone feels it’s a safe and accepting environment in which to learn or to work and we have to make sure that happens.”