Margaret Raymond Driscoll is a nine-year Melrose School Committee member who is passionate about excellent teaching and learning for all public school students, and considers it a privilege to collaborate with others who share that passion. You can also follow her on Twitter at @MargaretDrisc. Just to be clear - opinions expressed here do not represent those of the Melrose Public Schools, the Melrose School Committee, or the Massachusetts Association of School Business Officials - they are hers alone.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Superintendent's Statement Re: OCR Investigation

At last night’s School Committee meeting, Superintendent Taymore read a statement related to the current U.S. Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights (OCR) investigation in the district. The statement reads as follows:

As you are aware, the Melrose Public Schools received verbal notification that the U.S. Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights (“OCR”) has determined that the Melrose Public Schools was found to be in violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  As a result of that finding, the District is now in the process of negotiating a voluntary agreement with OCR to resolve the underlying complaint.

The matter investigated by OCR involved an interaction, which took place nearly a year and a half ago, between a Middle School student and a teacher who is no longer employed by the Melrose Public Schools.  At the time that the incident was originally reported, Melrose Public Schools’ administrators immediately initiated an internal investigation and took corrective and remedial actions to address the teacher’s inappropriate and unacceptable conduct.  The District also offered remedial measures to the victimized student. 

Let me be clear, discrimination in our schools, in any form, will never be accepted or tolerated in the Melrose Public Schools. In the sixteen (16) months since this incident was first reported and prior to notification of the OCR investigation, the Melrose Public Schools, at my direction, commenced a series of professional development trainings for staff to address these concerns.  These trainings focused on the root causes of discrimination and the maintenance and further development of a positive atmosphere in which all students feel accepted and are empowered to thrive in the Melrose school system.  Specifically, since the receipt of the original allegation in April, 2014, the teachers, coaches, administrators, staff and students of the Melrose Public Schools have engaged in nearly 100 hours of training and professional development to improve our cultural proficiency and the working and learning environments in our schools.  This training and professional development has focused not only on racial discrimination, but also issues of sexual violence, sexual orientation, gender identity, language minority students and disability related needs.  Additionally, we also engaged in targeted efforts to improve our response to allegations of bullying and harassment.

In addition to these trainings and professional development, we have provided specific training to the school psychologists and guidance counselors who are often in the position to receive such concerns or complaints.  Our Principals and Assistant Principals have engaged in professional development and received assistance from private consultants and attorneys to ensure a coordinated and comprehensive approach to the manner in which we respond to discrimination, bullying and harassment.   We look forward to the assistance that the Office of Civil Rights can provide as we work to improve and strengthen our knowledge and skills regarding not only Title VI requirements, but also regarding how best to respond to any reported incidents of harassment.

We, as educators and leaders, have a moral and ethical obligation to ensure the safety and well-being of the staff and students within our school community.  It is our obligation, not only to teach the academic curriculum, but also to impart to our students an enduring and sincere commitment to mutual respect, understanding and care for others.  We recognize that this responsibility, and these efforts, are critical to the success of our students and we will continue to engage in aggressive and comprehensive efforts to improve our practices as we aspire to eliminate all forms of discrimination and harassment from our schools and from our community.