Federal civil rights investigation opened on Lebanon schools

The U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights has opened a formal investigation into complaints brought against the Lebanon City Schools by three mothers of children who attended school in the district.

The investigation, begun May 21, is outlined in identical letters sent to the mothers obtained Wednesday by this newspaper.

The complaints allege that “during the 2014-2015 school year, staff and students at the high school and junior high school subjected biracial and African American students to a racially hostile environment, including different treatment under the dress code, segregation in class seat assignments, derogatory comments, racial slurs, and physical threats; and that the district was aware of the hostile environment but failed to take appropriate action,” Donald Yarab, supervising attorney for the federal office, said in the letters.

The mothers filed separate complaints against the district in April, working with Robert Newman, a lawyer in Cincinnati.

Most of the claims involved the junior high, although there are claims involving the high school and messages posted on the Instagram social network. Two of the children have been pulled from the district.

On Wednesday, the federal agency and Lebanon school officials confirmed the investigation had begun.

“We have received a letter from the Office of Civil Rights. They will investigate the allegations against the school district,” Superintendent Mark North said.

The letters announcing the formal investigation also indicate the complaints have been merged into one investigation.

“It means the Department of Education is taking this seriously and they are going to conduct a serious investigation,” Newman said.

The federal case could result in the district adding training programs or events designed to encourage racial tolerance and discourage bullying, according to Newman.

“I know there are a lot of people of goodwill in that district that want to help improve that culture,” he said.

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