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Lebanon school staff to be questioned about complaints

Lebanon City School District’s construction and renovation projects are under way with two new additions that opened for the 2015-2016 school year. Shown is the new 14,000-square-foot Bowman Primary School addition and playground. CONTRIBUTED (File photo from Aug. 26, 2015)
Lebanon City School District’s construction and renovation projects are under way with two new additions that opened for the 2015-2016 school year. Shown is the new 14,000-square-foot Bowman Primary School addition and playground. CONTRIBUTED (File photo from Aug. 26, 2015)

Federal investigation continues of three complaints filed in April 2015

Staff from Lebanon City Schools are to be interviewed "early next year" by the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights (OCR) about racial harassment complaints filed last April on behalf of four students.

The biracial or African American students, all of whom have since left the Lebanon district, were attending the high school or junior high in Lebanon at the time of the alleged incidents in 2014 and 2015.

In three successive complaints filed with OCR in April, the students and their parents claimed the district failed to respond to complaints about racist bullying at the schools and, in one case, through online social networks.

In one incident, the district disciplined a student and a racial slur was cleaned from a bathroom wall.

During a school board meeting after the complaints were filed, administrators detailed programs and policies designed to discourage racism or bullying in the school district.

“The district has nothing new to report at this time concerning the allegations,” lawyer David Lampe said in an email. “It is my understanding that representatives from OCR will not interview staff until sometime early next year.”

OCR opened an investigation in May.

The students and parents were interviewed on Nov. 19 at Bethel A.M.E. Church in Lebanon by OCR lawyers, according to their lawyer, Robert Newman.

“It only takes a small group to make life difficult for minorities,” Newman said last week. “I don’t think it’s a school-wide issue.”

OCR enforces civil rights laws established to encourage equal treatment and discourage racism and harassment in schools.

While preparing to interview school staff, OCR officials would also be reviewing “massive documents,” according to Newman.

Once the school-staff interviews have been completed, Newman said OCR could schedule a hearing, unless the district agreed to conduct special programs to discourage racist bullying in the school system.

A symposium encouraging racial reconciliation was held at Colerain High School, north of Cincinnati, to settle another recent complaint, Newman said.

“Really it’s up to the U.S. Department of Education as to what kind of resolution should occur,” he said.

OCR typically decides cases in six months, but a spokesman declined to set a timeline for resolution of the Lebanon complaints.

Meanwhile the students are attending school in Lakota, Middletown or being home schooled.

Newman expressed hope for a quick resolution but declined to predict when the cases would be concluded.

“I hope so,” he said. “I don’t know.”