OCR Finds Fla. School Created Hostile Environment for Bullied Student
An investigation by the Office for Civil Rights determined the school district failed to evaluate the bullied student for an individual education plan.
An investigation by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights has found that a Florida school district and a middle school principal created a “hostile environment” for a female student who endured physical bullying by a male student.
Jacqueline Perez says her daughter, Gabriela, was moved to a private school from Lexington Middle School in Fort Myers, Fla., following “multiple acts of physical aggression” by a male student.
Perez filed a complaint with the OCR in 2014, alleging the Lee County School District subjected Gabriela to disability discrimination by failing to evaluate her for a 504 plan or an individual education plan, reports NBC.
Gabriela has a rare genetic condition called hereditary angioedema which causes severe swelling due to stress, heat or certain types of medication. The Department of Education determined she was not evaluated for her disability. When questioned why, some school officials say they did not see how the condition impeded her education.
Perez says the first time Gabriela was harassed was between September 2013 and October 2013. The male student allegedly pulled her hair, knocked her books out of her hands, pushed her into lockers and threw a binder at her face.
The department’s report says in a November meeting between Gabriela and administrators, principal Linda Berry used the phrase “cause and effect” when describing an injury Gabriela had sustained.
“She was told that she caused it. That she provoked this, being an attractive young girl,” says Perez. “The principal blamed Gabriela. She pointed at my daughter. She said ‘look how she looks. This is a schoolboy crush.'”
Perez says the insinuation that her daughter had done something wrong caused her to have an asthma attack and severe swelling following the meeting.
The same boy who had bullied the young girl was suspended for two days after he threatened another male student.
School administrators conducted an internal investigation between November 25 and December 4 of 2013 but found no evidence of wrongdoing on the principal’s part and determined there was insufficient evidence to support the bullying claim. That is when Perez decided to file her complaint with the OCR.
The OCR determined school staff had reason to believe the student needed special services and the principal subjected the female student to disability-based harassing that interfered with her education.
Superintendent Greg Adkins signed a resolution agreement with the OCR saying the district will provide staff training in the areas of disability harassment and discrimination, review policies concerning disability harassment, provide counseling to Gabriela if requested and evaluate her for 504 eligibility.
A source close to the investigation told Fox 4 Adkins was told if he did not sign the resolution and agree to implement the changes, the DOE and the OCR would withhold a $10 million grant.
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