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WASHINGTON – Today the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Washington announced a settlement agreement with Federal Way Public Schools in Washington to resolve an investigation into allegations of peer-on-peer harassment on the basis of religion and national origin.
The complaints made to the United States alleged that students had repeatedly been targeted by their peers with verbal and physical harassment because of their religion or national origin, and that the district did not respond adequately to the students’ complaints about the harassment. 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. The settlement agreement also resolves complaints about the district’s failure to properly communicate with parents and guardians in the district who are not English language proficient, as required by the Equal Educational Opportunities Act of 1974.
“School districts must never ignore harassment of students because of their faith or national origin,” said Assistant Attorney General of the Civil Rights Division Eric S. Dreiband. “Discrimination in schools based on religion or national origin violates federal law and is antithetical to our nation’s values. We are encouraged by Federal Way’s agreement to change its policies and provide additional training to make sure that its teachers and other staff protect school children from harassment because of their religion or where their families came from. In this country, all people are entitled to be treated with respect and decency and without regard to their faith or their ancestral background.”
“Every student should be able to attend school without fear of being harassed and bullied because of his or her skin color or religious beliefs,” said U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Washington Brian T. Moran. “I am encouraged by Federal Way’s willingness to take immediate steps to ensure that students attending its schools are free of this type of harassment and bullying.”
Following an investigation into the families’ complaints, the United States notified Federal Way of its concern that the district had failed to respond promptly and appropriately to numerous students’ complaints of harassment, including complaints from Muslim students and a Latino student that they were subjected to serious and repeated verbal and physical harassment. The department also found that the district failed to properly communicate with parents and guardians who are not English language proficient about the complaints. The district worked cooperatively with the United States to ensure appropriate protections for all students and their families. Among other things, the settlement agreement requires the district to: work with a consultant to review and update its anti-harassment policies, ensure that it responds quickly and effectively to student complaints of harassment, and train staff members how to properly communicate with non-English proficient parents and guardians.
The enforcement of Title IV is a top priority of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, which enforces federal laws that protect individuals from discrimination based on their race, color, national origin, disability status, sex, religion, familial status, or loss of other constitutional rights. Additional information about the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department is available on its website at www.justice.gov/crt.
If you believe your civil rights, or someone else’s, have been violated, submit a report using our online form at www.civilrights.justice.gov/.
The settlement was negotiated by Assistant United States Attorney Christina Fogg, the Civil Rights Coordinator in the Western District of Washington. To learn more about the civil rights program visit: https://www.justice.gov/usao-wdwa/civil-rights .
Press contact for the U.S. Attorney’s Office is Communications Director Emily Langlie at (206) 553-4110 or Emily.Langlie@usdoj.gov.