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The Justice Department reached a settlement agreement today with DeKalb County, Ga., school district to resolve the department’s investigation into allegations of religious and national origin harassment of a Sikh middle school student. Counsel for the Sikh Coalition filed the complaint with the department, alleging that the student had been repeatedly targeted with verbal and physical harassment because of his Sikh faith. The department has authority to investigate and resolve complaints of religious and national origin harassment through its enforcement of Title IV of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Following an inquiry into the student-specific complaints, the department notified the district of its concerns that the district had failed to respond promptly and appropriately to the Sikh Coalition’s allegations of harassment, including allegations that the student was called “Aladdin” because he wore a turban and was told by a fellow student to “go back to his country.” The department also raised concerns that the district had not investigated witness statements that the student had been called a “terrorist” and that there was a history of fellow students targeting him because of his turban. The department also found that the disciplinary measures the district did take had not been effective in ending the harassment, and that the student feared continued harassment.
The district worked cooperatively with the department to resolve the complaint and ensure greater protections for the student. The settlement agreement, which will be in effect until the end of the 2014-2015 school year, requires the district to: work with a consultant to develop and implement anti-harassment training at the student’s middle and high school; immediately implement a safety plan to ensure that the student is safe at school and, should incidents of harassment occur, that the district responds quickly and effectively; and meet with the student, his family, and administrators from his middle school and the high school where he will enroll, to identify key school personnel who can support the student should any future incidents of harassment occur. The department has opened a separate and ongoing inquiry into whether the district’s anti-harassment policies meet federal standards, whether its policies are consistently implemented, and whether employees are adequately trained to implement those policies.
“Students of all faiths must be protected from harassment and other forms of discrimination,” said Jocelyn Samuels, Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. “We commend the district for stepping forward and putting student safety first. We are encouraged by the district’s resolve to support and provide anti-harassment training on issues facing students from the Sikh, Muslim, Arab-American and South Asian communities.”
“Every student should be able to attend school without fear of being harassed and bullied because of his skin color or religious beliefs,” said United States Attorney Sally Quillian Yates. “I am encouraged by DeKalb County’s willingness to take immediate steps to ensure that students attending DeKalb County schools are free of this type of harassment and bullying.”
The enforcement of Title IV is a top priority of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. Additional information about the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department is available on its website at www.justice.gov/crt .