Va. school leaders enter agreement to resolve Federal civil rights complaint

Va. school leaders enter agreement to resolve Federal civil rights complaint
Jefferson Forest High School (Source: WDBJ)

BEDFORD, Va. (WDBJ7) Bedford County school leaders released details Monday of an agreement they have formed with the Federal government, following a civil rights complaint filed against the division.

A spokesperson for the school system acknowledged Friday that the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights (OCR) was opening an investigation into an alleged racially hostile environment at Jefferson Forest High School.

Mironda Ray, a parent of two students who attend Jefferson Forest High School, said she filed a complaint with the OCR in May. Her complaint was sparked by a picture of JF students posing with confederate flags during their school spirit week.

The picture, shared by another parent on Facebook, sparked outrage among many and led to calls for banning the confederate flag in the school dress code.

After hearing from citizens, the school board did change their dress code policy in May. They added language prohibiting attire that causes a "substantial disruption to the learning environment" or a "safety concern," but no ban on the flag.

The move was not enough for Ray.

"I couldn't just sit back as a parent and not do anything about it," said Ray.

Ray filed a complaint alleging a, "racially hostile environment" at Jefferson Forest High School in May. That same month the office started a federal investigation into racial harassment in Bedford County.

Now, five months later, Bedford County Public Schools has reached an agreement with the Office for Civil Rights.

According to the OCR's case processing manual, investigations may be resolved at any time when the recipient, in this case Bedford County Public Schools, expresses an interest in resolving the allegations and OCR determines that it is appropriate to resolve them because the investigation "has identified issues that can be addressed through a resolution agreement."

Bedford County public schools sent us a statement Friday saying in part, "the school division firmly believes that it has not violated any federal civil rights laws."

The statement goes on to say that BCPS was taking steps to address incidents of racial bias before receiving notice of the investigation.

According to a resolution agreement, shared with WDBJ7 by a spokesperson for the school system, signed by superintendent Douglas Schuch, Bedford County's school division has resolved to conduct “refresher training” for Jefferson Forest High School administrators on the issue of handling racial and national origin harassment complaints.

School division leaders have also resolved to evaluate all 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 the end of 2019, the school division has agreed to administer a "climate survey" to all students at Jefferson Forest High School, to assess the extent and impact of racial and national origin harassment within their school community.

Under the agreement school leaders have resolved to provide the office of civil rights with data and reports, describing how the school division is working to address concerns raised in the original OCR complaint.

School leaders emphasize the agreement does not constitute an admission to violating any Federal civil rights laws.

The OCR said the case is still pending.

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