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New Mexico School District Will Implement Policy Against Racial Harassment


The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights says the Truth or Consequences school district must ensure an educational environment free of racial discrimination after a Black student complained about a high school racism project.

The district and the Office of Civil Rights have signed a resolution agreement under which the district will develop and implement procedures for addressing racial harassment claims.

However, the federal office found no violations of law arising from allegations against the district last year on behalf of student Gabriel Reynolds. The agency said it would not sanction the educators.

The decision came down July 9, more than a year after Hot Springs High School students posted signs saying “Whites only” and “people of color” above a school water faucet as part of a project for an English class focusing on social justice. The students hoped to secretly monitor others’ reactions.

Other students tore down the signs within minutes, but Reynolds said the signs shocked and angered him. He complained that he was humiliated.

His family filed complaints with the federal and state education departments.

School officials described the April 2006 project as an attempt to explore the nation’s history of racism. The school at the time had about 426 students, seven of them Black.

Truth or Consequences school Superintendent James Nesbitt said the district agreed with the federal agency that it needs a clear procedure for reporting problems.

Although the investigation was limited to the high school, the agreement says the procedures will be implemented districtwide.

That will “better ensure that any problems are identified and addressed wherever they may arise,” Nesbitt said in a news release announcing the agreement.

“The development of a reporting plan is in keeping with the purpose of the student project that resulted in the Reynolds’ complaints, which was to address the issue of racial harassment with students,” he said.

The federal agency said the Reynolds family’s complaint of a hostile environment had been resolved in an investigation by the state Department of Education.

Nesbitt, Hot Springs Principal Ronald Williams and English teacher Michelle Williams, the principal’s wife, reached a settlement with the state officials in March.

At the time, Nesbitt said he and the others made a mistake in judgment.

Nesbitt and the principal sent the Reynolds’ family a written apology and publicly apologized. However, Susan Reynolds, the student’s mother, said she didn’t consider the apology sincere because the educators never acknowledged the project was inappropriate.

The state settlement said the student-initiated project created at least the appearance of discrimination and should not have been approved.

The educators agreed to take racial sensitivity training and had letters of reprimand placed in their files for 18 months.

The federal agreement requires the district to implement the new procedures by the end of the year, including training to students and staff to increase awareness and prevention of racial harassment and discrimination.

– Associated Press

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