The federal government is launching an investigation into allegations that the Loleta Elementary School District has discriminated against Native American students.
The Americans Civil Liberties Union of Northern California received a letter this week from the United States Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights informing it that the office has officially launched an investigation in response to the ACLU’s complaint alleging systemic discrimination in the district, including the verbal and physical abuse of students by district staff.
“Please note that opening the allegations for investigation in no way implies that (the Office for Civil Rights) has made a determination with regard to their merits,” the letter states. “During the investigation, the OCR is a neutral fact-finder, collecting and analyzing relevant evidence from the complainant, the recipient and other sources, as appropriate.”
The ACLU filed the complaint last month alleging that the district has engaged in a pattern of discriminatory discipline against Native American students and put up barriers to disability and special needs assessments. Further, the complaint alleges that staff — and specifically Superintendent and Principal Sally Hadden — has been physically and verbally abusive of students, detailing instances when Hadden is alleged to have grabbed a Native American student by the ear and said, “See how red it’s getting?,” hit students with a clipboard and another in which she allegedly referred to a Native American student as a “saltine” because he “looked white.”
Hadden was not immediately available this morning, but the Journal will update this post if she returns a call seeking comment. A call seeking comment from the Office of Civil Rights was also not immediately returned this morning.
In the letter to the ACLU, the Office of Civil Rights indicates it intends to investigate each of the claims raised by the group and requests a meeting with ACLU attorneys to discuss the situation.
For more information about the complaint, as well as a lawsuit the ACLU filed against Eureka City Schools, see past Journal coverage here and here.
UPDATE: U.S. Department of Education spokesman Jim Bradshaw returned the Journal's call Friday morning and sent the following statement:
"OCR received a complaint against the Loleta Union Elementary School District alleging that: Native American students are subjected to harassment based on race and the district has failed to respond appropriately to notice of the harassment. Also, that Native American students are allegedly treated differently than non-Native American students with respect to discipline; that the district denies Native American students with disabilities a free appropriate public education (FAPE); and the district discriminates against Native American students with disabilities by refusing to make reasonable modifications in policies, practices or procedures when necessary to avoid discrimination on the basis of disability.