Castle Rock, CO

DougCo schools investigated for civil rights violation

Suzie Glassman

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Jackson, right, and Nathanial Gould on the first day at their new school in CaliforniaPhoto byKatie Gould

By: Suzie Glassman/NewsBreak Denver

(Castle Rock, CO) This week, the United States Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights opened an investigation into whether the DougCo school district violated a student's civil rights when administrators allowed his classmates to unmask despite his chronic health condition without consulting his parents.

Kate Gould, who filed the complaint, said she hopes the investigation will cause the district to reconsider how it treats families and students with significant health concerns.

"These investigations cost the district quite a bit of time and money. If they are found guilty, there are significant fines, and they will have to spend time showing [Office for Civil Rights] they are doing things legally. I don't want what happened to my son to happen to other children."

A spokeswoman for the district said they have received the complaint and will cooperate with the investigation.

Lifting the mask mandate

The DougCo school board majority lifted the mask mandate issued by the county health department last December, despite the CDC recommendation to continue universal masking in light of highly contagious variants that had begun circulating.

Gould immediately feared for her son's safety at school but was repeatedly denied a request to keep masking mandatory, at least within his grade at Heritage Elementary.

Her son, Jackson, has cystic fibrosis, a chronic lung disease that could put him at greater risk for serious illness if infected with the virus that causes COVID-19.

The district only agreed to add a universal masking accommodation to Jackson's 504 plan after receiving a letter from his pulmonologist saying it was critical for the boy's lung health. 504 plans are formal plans that schools develop to support kids with disabilities, and they're covered under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.

Gould had no reason to believe the district would remove her son's accommodation until she opened an email sent to the entire fourth grade notifying parents that as of March 1 (the email date), they would no longer require the students to wear masks.

"I was livid," said Gould. "How could they not let me know? They took away his federally-protected accommodation without convening his 504 team, consulting or informing his father, me, or his physician."

The law states, "School districts must provide notice to parents explaining any evaluation and placement decisions affecting their children, and explain the parents' right to review relevant records and contest any decision regarding evaluation and placement through an impartial hearing."

Gould had few options

Gould says she ended up pulling her two children out of Heritage Elementary in April out of fear her son would get sick and frustration with the school's principal.

She didn't want to homeschool, and other schools they liked didn't have room, so the family moved, at great personal expense, to a district in San Diego that continued to require masking.

"Jackson loved his school and thrived there, but his experience left him anxious," she said. "His new school has had no problem accommodating him."

By pursuing a civil rights complaint against DougCo, Gould hopes to hold the district accountable for their treatment and to prevent a similar issue from happening to anyone else.

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