DougCo schools investigate bullying and coach misconduct at high schools

Suzie Glassman

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Douglas County High SchoolDouglas County School District

By: Suzie Glassman/NewsBreak Denver

(Castle Rock, CO) The Douglas County School District is investigating whether any students who attended Douglas County High School or Rock Canyon High School from 2018-2020 were denied a free and appropriate public education (FAPE) due to bullying.

Wendy Jacobs, district attorney, sent a letter to more than 1,000 parents of students with a physical, mental, or learning-related disability who attended those schools during the years in question. Parents have 30 days from receiving the Sept. 16 letter to meet with Jacobs to discuss their experiences and determine whether the district needs to offer remedies, including compensatory education.

According to the Public Interest Law Center, "Compensatory education is money that families can use to pay for educational services such as tutoring and therapies. The purpose of compensatory education is to place the student in the same position he or she would have been in if the district had provided FAPE."

The move comes more than two years after a family filed a discrimination complaint on behalf of a group of parents and guardians against the district with the U.S Department of Education Office of Civil Rights (OCR).

The complaint alleged that the district treated female athletes differently than male athletes concerning the unprofessional conduct of coaches and failed to ensure a prompt and equitable response to grievances under Title IX and Section 504, a civil rights statute that protects students with disabilities.

The complaint also alleges the district denied students with disabilities a free and appropriate education when it failed to consider the impact of bullying on a student's ability to receive FAPE.

Investigating coach misconduct

Families said coaches of eight male sports teams across several high schools were fired or forced to resign after misconduct. Yet, coaches of 12 female teams either remained unresolved (eight), were fired or forced to resign (two), or were not escalated out of fear of retaliation (two).

As part of its investigation, OCR reviewed documents submitted by both parties, interviewed district staff, and visited DCHS.

DougCo's Title IX coordinator denied treating students differently when handling allegations of coach misconduct. However, he also stated that the allegation process was informal and "usually occurred through a quick discussion."

A letter from the OCR to DougCo acting superintendents Andy Abner and Danelle Hiatt stated the OCR had concerns about the district's compliance with Title IX and how it handles coach discipline.

Investigating bullying and denial of FAPE

The complaint also alleged that the district denied students with disabilities attending DCHS FAPE when it failed to consider the impact of bullying on a student. Families provided four bullying or harassment examples where the district failed to conduct "credible investigations."

According to the OCR, if a school has reason to believe that a student with disabilities is bullied, the school must determine the extent to which additional or different services are needed and make those changes promptly.

DougCo's Section 504 coordinator told the OCR that there's often no way to know if bullying issues are related to a student's disability. District lawyers said it's often necessary to take a "wait and see" approach.

The 504 coordinator also said she believed if a student's disability wasn't part of the harassment, then it wasn't a concern for the 504 or IEP team, which OCR said is inaccurate.

OCR's investigation found absences in the district's policies and procedures for addressing bullying situations and how it affects a student's education under Section 504. "The Section 504 Coordinator repeatedly confirmed that she instructs her staff not to address bullying situations if the qualified student's disability isn't implicated in the harassment," writes the OCR.

DougCo'sTitle IX agreement resolution

DougCo agreed to resolution terms with OCR earlier this year without admitting liability or wrongdoing.

Under Title IX, the district agreed to ensure that it will consistently apply its policies and procedures throughout all its schools. DougCo also agreed to conduct an annual audit at the end of the 2022 and 2023 school years to evaluate its compliance concerning the sex of students on a coach's team and allegations of misconduct.

DougCo also agreed to address allegations of different treatment based on sex for female students at Castle View High School, Chaparral High School, DCHS, Mountain Vista High School, Ponderosa High School, or Rock Canyon High School during the 2018-2020 school years.

The district has to notify students that it's reviewing the complaints during that period, offer appropriate remedial action, and provide training to school administrators and coaching staff.

DougCo's Section 504 resolution

Again, without admitting liability or wrongdoing, the district agreed to update its Section 504 policies and procedures and to ensure they are applied and enforced consistently.

The district agreed to submit an annual audit reviewing its compliance with those procedures by June 30th. Yet, a CORA request in early September revealed the district had no records of this audit.

DougCo was supposed to notify parents and guardians of students with disabilities who attended DCHS or RCHS during the 2018-2020 school years, offering to meet with them within 30 days of signing the resolution.

However, Jacobs' letter to parents came more than six months after signing the agreement. It's unclear why the district failed to meet its initial deadline.

DougCo also agreed to submit documentation to OCR within 120 calendar days of signing the agreement of any requests for a meeting in response to that notification and provide training to school and district-level Section 504 and special education coordinators, principals, assistant principals, and special education teachers.

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