U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights Announces Resolution of Disability Harassment Investigation of Allegheny Valley School District in Pennsylvania

2 months ago

The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) resolved today a disability harassment investigation of the Allegheny Valley School District in Pennsylvania.

OCR determined that the district subjected a student with a disability to harassment so pervasive that it constituted a hostile environment and that the district failed to take necessary steps to protect the student, end the harassment, and assess whether the harassment impeded the student’s ability to access the district’s educational program, in violation of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504), Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (Title II), and their implementing regulations.

Over a period of six months, classmates repeatedly directed disability slurs at the student and both physically attacked the student and threatened to attack him in a manner directly related to his disability, all of which the student’s parent, and school staff, reported to a district principal. One of the attacks was captured on school security camera video and still the principal did not treat it as disability-based harassment.

OCR’s investigation revealed that the district did not investigate all incidents reported, and where the district investigated, its investigations were so limited that they, for example, disregarded an eyewitness report and did not seek information from relevant witnesses. Further, OCR’s investigation revealed that the district treated each report of harassment as an isolated incident, instead of an accumulation of evidence that the student was experiencing persistent disability-related harassment.

Although OCR’s investigation revealed that the student’s parent reported that the harassing behavior was impacting the student’s ability to access the district’s educational program, and requested modifications to the student’s individualized education plan (IEP) to provide the student with more support, the district failed to convene a formal IEP meeting, pursuant to the requirements of Section 504, for more than six months after the student’s parent first reported the harassment.

And even when the district convened the student’s IEP team six months later, there is no evidence that the IEP team considered whether the harassment resulted in a denial of a free appropriate public education (FAPE) for the student, and whether adjustments to the student’s IEP were necessary.

“No student should endure the disability-based hostile environment that the student in this investigation suffered, and our federal civil rights laws promise that schools will take necessary steps to protect students from these harms,” said Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Catherine E. Lhamon. “Allegheny Valley School District has now committed to important corrective action so no student in its charge will live through the harm the student in this investigation suffered, and instead every student may expect to experience the nondiscriminatory learning environment that federal law guarantees.”

The resolution agreement commits the district to take steps to ensure nondiscrimination based on disability in all of its education programs and activities, including:

  • The distribution of a memorandum to all district staff affirming the district’s obligations pursuant to Section 504 and Title II.
  • Training all school staff.
  • Offering individual remedies to the student, such as counseling, academic or other therapeutic services to remedy the effects of the harassment.
  • Convening the student’s IEP team, as appropriate, to determine whether he experienced a FAPE impact due to the harassment.
  • A review of all bullying incidents for a three-year period at the school to determine any needed additional remedies. And,
  • A climate assessment to evaluate needed additional supports to ensure a nondiscriminatory school environment for students.

The letter to Allegheny Valley School District is available here and the resolution agreement is available here.

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