Feds to investigate Texas school district for civil rights violations

The district has been under fire for several years since a video of white students chanting the N-word went viral.

A school district in Southlake, Tex., is the subject of an investigation on civil rights violations. NBC reports the Carroll Independent School District was notified in November that three investigations were ongoing due to complaints about discrimination against students based on their race, gender and national origin. 

Karen Fitzgerald, a spokeswoman for the district, confirmed they’d received notice and are “fully cooperating with this process.”

She said, “Our focus will always be what is best for our students as we prepare them for their next steps in their educational journey,” but that she’s forbidden to say more regarding the suit due to federal law.

The district has become an epicenter of media attention in the past year, with numerous political battles over school programs, books, and curricula that center on race, gender and sexuality. Some of the curricula have reportedly been misbranded under the umbrella of critical race theory. Southlake is a diversifying Dallas/Fort Worth suburb.

(Credit: Adobe)

The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) is responsible for enforcing federal laws that protect students from discrimination. Brett Sokolow, president of the Association of Title IX Administrators, a consulting firm that advises school districts on how to resolve such complaints, said investigations into complaints can take months to years. 

“Opening a complaint means that OCR believes that there is a likely violation based on the complaint,” Sokolow said. “And then they’re going to do their due diligence to find out more information.”

If the investigation finds violations of students’ civil rights, the agency can require a school district to make specific policy changes. They can also be subjected to federal monitoring.

Complaints within the district have been growing for some time. In 2018, a video of white high school students chanting the N-word went viral online. Parents, students, and recent graduates shared stories of their own encounters with racism and anti-LGBTQ harassment within the district. Carroll is historically a majority-white district that has grown more diverse in the past several years.

Robin Cornish, then a 51-year-old mother of five, was not surprised by the 8-second clip. She recognized one of the girls in the video as her son’s classmate. Per NBC News, Cornish and other Black parents quietly referred to such racism as Southlake’s “dirty secret.”

Cornish shared the shocking experiences that her four older kids dealt with at varying times: The day after Rosa Parks died in 2005, elementary school classmates told her kids “now you have to sit in the back of the bus,” she said.

A sixth-grade boy allegedly said to her son: “How do you get a Black [person] out of a tree? You cut the rope.”

Just weeks after her husband’s sudden death in 2008, she said a white student on the football team told her son, “Your mom is only voting for Obama because your dad is dead and she’s going to need welfare.”

After the viral video incident, the district promised to make changes, proposing a 34-page Cultural Competence Action Plan. Among the recommendations were diversity training for all students and teachers, a new process to report and track incidents of racist bullying and changes to the code of conduct to hold students accountable for acts of discrimination.

But conservative parents were opposed to the plan backing a civil lawsuit to block the changes. The plan was effectively killed after conservative candidates supported by Southlake Families PAC, a group formed to defeat the diversity plan, swayed the district’s school board. 

A few measures have been implemented. Carroll Superintendent Lane Ledbetter says he and his staff are committed to handling student complaints. The district has created a student and staff services division focused on the issue.

“No students should feel unsafe,” Ledbetter said in July. “And we’re going to address that. But as a whole, I absolutely believe that people are proud of this community and proud to be a part of Carroll ISD.”

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