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School district to appeal discrimination finding
The Mercer Island School District Board of Directors voted unanimously on Nov. 8 to appeal the decision by the Office of Administrative Hearings, acting on behalf of the Washington State Superintendent’s Office, that the school district discriminated against an Islander Middle School student when it responded to his complaints of harassment and discrimination.
A civil suit brought against the Mercer Island School District by the family, who said that their son was harassed by a fellow student at Islander Middle School, was dismissed by a judge in King County Superior Court on Sept. 14.
The boy’s parents, Robin and Nicholas Wilt, had not given proper notice of the suit to the school district.
The family has since given notice to the school district that it will re-file that complaint.
On Oct. 15, a decision by Judge Michelle C. Mentzer, of the Washington State Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH), on behalf of the state superintendent’s office, says that the school district mishandled an investigation and its aftermath regarding two incidents involving a student who has special needs.
The parents of the student complained later that the district did not adequately address claims of racial slurs and related behavior involving their son, as required by state law. The judge ruled that the investigation regarding the incidents was flawed, and those flaws were sufficiently serious enough to create a hostile environment.
“They used the fact that we took our [son] out of special education in a retaliatory fashion,” Robin Wilt said.
Dr. Gary Plano, superintendent of the Mercer Island School District posted these comments on the school district’s website explaining the board’s position:
“The Mercer Island School District is appealing a recent ruling by the OAH regarding student-on-student harassment at Islander Middle School to the King County Superior Court.
“This district has consistently implemented a zero tolerance policy against discrimination, including student-on-student harassment and bullying.
“In this instance, the teachers and administrators took immediate steps to address the incident and worked closely with the family. Additionally, the school district board and I oversaw two investigations which both determined that appropriate actions had been taken to address the complaint.
“The district respectfully disagrees with the ALJ’s legal and factual determinations regarding this situation and is therefore appealing.
“Regardless of the initial ruling, the district has in place a comprehensive educational program to provide a school environment free from any discrimination.”
The student came to Islander Middle School in the fall of 2011 as a new student in the seventh grade. He came with an individualized learning plan from his prior school district. He is of mixed race. He spent his first week at the school in IMS’s special education program, but was later withdrawn from that program by his parents and was placed in a regular classroom.
Comments from fellow students directed toward him prompted the complaint.
The boy remains a student at Islander Middle School.