Education

After 4 years, feds close civil rights probe of Cedar Rapids schools

Another complaint of discrimination still is being investigated

The Cedar Rapids Community School District's Educational Leadership and Support Center (ELSC) in Cedar Rapids on Friday, Apr. 3, 2015. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
The Cedar Rapids Community School District's Educational Leadership and Support Center (ELSC) in Cedar Rapids on Friday, Apr. 3, 2015. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — A four-year federal civil rights investigation into the Cedar Rapids school district has ended with investigators finding insufficient or no evidence of the district discriminating against African-American students.

The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights opened the investigation in 2014 after receiving three related complaints that black students at Washington High School were subjected to harsher punishment than their white peers. The complaints spurred a federal probe of the entire district, where some 16,000 students are enrolled.

According to a U.S. Department of Education letter dated March 27 that describes the investigators’ conclusions, “the preponderance of the evidence does not establish a violation” of civil rights law.

District officials were pleased with the findings, said Deputy Superintendent Mary Ellen Maske.

“What this says to me is, we do a good job of treating students equitably, regardless of their race, gender, beliefs, anything like that,” Maske said. “So I think we are proud that this has been unfounded or that there’s insufficient evidence to indicate we did discriminate on the basis of race.”

Maske also was relieved to see the investigation finally end.

“Four years is a long time, and it does have a negative impact when you have that out there hanging over your head,” Maske said.

Rebecca Wright-Grant, who identified herself as the parent who made the original complaint, said she remains convinced the district mistreats black students.

“I’m very disappointed,” Wright-Grant said. “Would I give up? No, I’m not giving up on these kids because they need somebody, and we’re going to continue.”

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

Wright-Grant — who is being honored as a civil rights leader this week by the Waterloo Human Rights Commission, according to the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier — questioned the thoroughness of the federal investigation.

“I continue to get complaints,” she said. “So you have to ask yourself: Did they do a good investigation? Why is it still happening?”

Investigators visited eight schools in the district over several days in fall 2014, where they interviewed staff and select students. The district also shared “thousands and thousands of documents” with investigators, Maske said.

In a surprise to both Wright-Grant and the district, the federal investigators did not recommend any corrective measures to the district.

“That’s not uncommon when there’s an investigation done, that they would ask you to do some review,” Maske said. “They have not asked us to review or change anything.”

While this investigation has come to a close, a second civil rights investigation of the Cedar Rapids school district still is underway. The separate probe began in late January because of a complaint of discrimination against black students.

THE ORIGINAL COMPLAINTS

The 2014 federal probe began in response to complaints that alleged:

• The district discriminated against two black students, identified only as Student A and Student B, by failing to respond to their complaints of bullying while responding to their white peers’ similar complaints;

• The district disciplined Student A and Student B more harshly than their white peers when it suspended and then administratively transferred Student A for assaulting a peer she said bullied her, and when it admonished both Student A and Student B for dress code violations while not doing the same to white students;

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

Thank you for signing up for our e-newsletter!

You should start receiving the e-newsletters within a couple days.

• The district retaliated against Student A because her parent complained about racial discrimination.

The investigators’ conclusions, however, outline a broader description of events.

In response to the first complaint, the letter describes Student A as being involved in “several verbal and physical altercations” between “members of two groups of African-American female” students at Washington High School.

Washington High administrators told investigators “no student issue occupied more of their collective time during the 2012-2013 school year than this conflict” and they did not consider it bullying as there was “no imbalance of power between the groups.”

Ultimately, in 2013, Student A and two others were arrested after assaulting a student in the library. The student was not permitted to return.

Investigators found no evidence that Student A had made any written complaints of bullying. Student B told investigators she was not bulled by any student “in contrast to the Complainant’s assertion.”

Student A, however, made two verbal complaints of bullying. Administrators were “in the process of responding” to them when they “were called away to respond to the library incident,” according to the letter.

“Based on the foregoing, OCR determined that the evidence is insufficient to establish that the District failed to respond appropriately to the reports of bullying of Student A based on race, as alleged,” investigators concluded.

To the complaint about dress code violations, investigators wrote that the district did not record any disciplinary consequences related to dress code for either Student A or Student B.

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

Finally, investigators concluded that Student A’s discipline was unrelated to her parent’s complaints.

“Student A’s discipline was based on her misconduct on that day, her disciplinary history and history of conflict with other students in the School,” the letter states.

l Comments: (319) 398-8330; molly.duffy@thegazette.com

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.

CONTINUE READING

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.