Westport School District faces federal investigations

By Ian Bernstein ’18 & Sophie Driscoll ’19

On Nov. 9, the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights opened two investigations of the Westport Public School system in response to allegations claiming a school principal and guidance counsellor shook a student complaining of harassment, according to a report in the Westport News.

“As far as I know, this is not something that occurred at Staples High School,” Staples High School principal James D’Amico said.

The federal investigations are said to focus on allegations of racial and sexual discrimination under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972.

According to a letter sent to the Board of Education from the Office for Civil Rights obtained by the Westport News, the student had been complaining about derogatory comments made by his fellow students regarding his race and sex. The letter claimed the Board responded to the matter by punishing the student in multiple ways, including with an out-of-school suspension.

“I think, as somebody who is not white, if the school is racially [discriminatory], that’s very bad. I wouldn’t want to be part of an environment that discriminates against people,” Reva Kale ’19 said.

Westport School District superintendent Dr. Colleen Palmer notes that, while the allegations have not yet been proven true, the district strives to ensure inclusivity and reject unfair treatment in its schools to promote a healthy learning environment.

“We are committed to make sure that we never accept any student or individual being discriminated against or not feeling part of our school community,” Palmer said. “My job is to make sure we have a district that embraces and respects the individuality of every single person in it.”

These allegations came forth during a very tumultuous time period.

“I think emotions were raw [Nov. 9], and I think the election did impact how we looked at the world and perhaps seduced some into allowing their emotions about politics to spill over into other areas, in which they forgot to respect other individuals,” Palmer said. “I think this was across the country.”

Attorney Michael Iacurci, who is representing two Westport families, told the Westport News that a civil lawsuit will also be filed against the Westport Board of Education.

Board of Education Chair Michael Gordon and Iacurci did not respond to requests for comments.