Racial discrimination allegations being investigated at Bastrop ISD

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by JIM BERGAMO / KVUE News and photojournalist DOUG NAUGLE

Bio | Email | Follow: @JimB_KVUE

kvue.com

Posted on February 15, 2013 at 7:22 PM

Updated Friday, Feb 15 at 7:41 PM

BASTROP COUNTY, Texas -- The federal government is stepping in to investigate complaints of racial discrimination against the Bastrop Independent School District. 

Bastrop Community Activist Steve Miller is the man who filed the complaint. Miller said he's excited that federal investigators will be in Bastrop to examine the allegations, but he's not sure they can right the wrongs he says have been going in Bastrop ISD for years.  

On May 2011, some Bastrop residents staged a peaceful protest to what they claimed were repeated incidents of racial discrimination against employees and students in Bastrop ISD.

"We have supervisors calling other employees, in the presence of other employees, using the "N" word," said Miller.

The allegations came to a head when, just a month earlier, the Bastrop middle school principal called out African-American students for poor performance on state exams. That prompted the district to form a diversity plan.

"It's been 13 months since we've passed the diversity plan," said Miller. "We've only met twice since then."  

Dissatisfied with the district's progress to resolve the problems, Miller filed a complaint with the Texas NAACP in August, 2011. Now the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights is getting involved.

"Then they will know that we have some power working with us," said Dorine Barlowe, a Bastrop resident. "Without the feds, I feel like things will never get straight."

Miller said he's been told the OCR has asked for the district's human resource records dating back two years. He said that may not be enough.

"They're going to have to go back many years, at least within the last 10-years if they truly want to uncover the abuse of black employees and black students within the Bastrop Independent School District," he said.  

Superintendent Steve Murray issued a statement Friday. 

The full statement reads:
"Bastrop ISD was notified by the United States Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights (OCR) that a case was brought against the District on August 8, 2011. In the complaint, the complainant alleged the BISD discriminated against African American and Latino students, employees and applicants.

Bastrop ISD has fully cooperated with the OCR by submitting the requested information. We welcome the folks from the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) in Dallas to Bastrop ISD. While we take the allegations included in the complaint filed with OCR very seriously, we also know and understand that this complaint is over 18 months old (initially filed in August of 2011).

We look forward to showing the OCR investigators that we have adequately investigated and dealt with the known or reported incidents detailed in the complaint and more importantly - show them all the wonderful things that are going on for all students in Bastrop ISD.

The campus most prominently highlighted in the complaint, Bastrop Middle School, is a great place for all students and they have some of the greatest academic gains in the district - most notably with respect to African-American student achievement.

We are fully engaged in a Diversity Plan process and are being applauded by folks like the Texas Department for Health and Human Services for our proactive and sincere approach. We believe that the OCR will find that Bastrop ISD does not discriminate against its students and/or employees, and that we take any and all allegations regarding such behavior seriously."

The OCR anticipates conducting an on-site visit during the week of February 25, at which time the district will continue to fully cooperate with their investigation. After this supplemental data is obtained, the OCR will determine whether Bastrop ISD's circumstances warrant further investigation or if the complaint allegation will be closed.

'The Center for Elimination of Disproportionality and Disparities (CEDD) is pleased to partner with Bastrop Independent School District to implement the Texas model for addressing disproportionally and disparities. Bastrop ISD's commitment to this effort is an innovative, forward-thinking, and courageous move to improve outcomes for all of the district's students, faculty, families, and ultimately the entire community. We applaud the district's hard work and efforts in establishing the diversity plan and committee and engaging their leaders in training grounded in and defined by anti-racist principles. The willingness of the district's leadership to engage in new and courageous conversations that get to the root cause of inequities across racial lines is inspiring and a model for systems transformation,' said Joyce James, Associate Deputy Executive Commissioner of the Center for Elimination of Disproportionality and Disparities at the Texas Health and Human Services Commission.

Under her leadership, the legislatively mandated center is working across systems to reduce or elimination racial disproportionally and disparities.

Bastrop ISD takes reports of racially harassing conduct seriously and addresses any such complaints promptly and diligently."

Miller read the statement and said the district is being insincere.

"How can you formulate a solution if you are not talking to the people who brought the problem in the first place?" Miller asked.

Miller said the OCR will begin its investigation Feb. 25.  

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