In the 2013-2014 school year, Nicole Jenkins said, her then 8-year-old son witnessed a friend "being called the n-word on the school bus."
"Later that year," Jenkins said, "he and a Hispanic friend were called the n-word. Finally, ... he was called a baboon by a classmate" at Meadowthorpe Elementary School.
As a result of concerns Jenkins had about the district's response, according to a February 2015 federal document, Jenkins filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education, and Fayette County Public Schools entered into an agreement with the department to avoid a federal investigation.
On Monday night, Jenkins publicly asked the school board at its monthly meeting to investigate whether district officials are complying with the seven-page agreement. Jenkins maintains that the district hasn't met deadlines or fully performed under the agreement and that other students are subjected to acts of harassment that lead to a hostile environment.
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"Because the district has chosen not to provide equal protection to the students of the district, we as parents and members of the community must act on behalf of our sons and daughters to ensure that their K-through-12 years are not sullied with harassment that is allowed to fester in hostile environments," Jenkins told the board.
Shelley Chatfield, an attorney for the district, said later, in an interview with the Herald-Leader, that the district had been in regular contact with the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights. She said that office is looking at district policies, and the district is complying with the agreement.
Chatfield said the Education Department gave the district the choice of an investigation or the agreement, and the district chose the agreement.
"Our position was there is always room for improvement, and it's great to have another set of eyes looking at your policies," Chatfield said.
According to a Feb. 20 letter that Melissa Corbin, a team leader in the Office for Civil Rights, wrote to Jenkins, the agreement came after Jenkins alleged that the district allowed a racially hostile environment to exist at Meadowthorpe Elementary because it failed to respond appropriately to incidents of racial harassment that occurred between November 2013 and March 2014. Jenkins said she filed the complaint in August 2014.
According to Corbin's letter, Jenkins alleged that the district retaliated against the student when the district denied her request to transfer her son to an accelerated/gifted program at the school in the 2014-15 school year.
Under the several-pronged agreement, the district agreed to review, revise and communicate a policy on harassment and retaliation. The district agreed to develop a plan to keep records on allegations of harassment, Chatfield said.
The district had to issue a statement by March to all students, parents and staff that the district does not tolerate acts of discrimination or harassment based on race, color or national origin.
By April, the district had to submit to the U.S. Department of Education new policies for addressing harassment.
By Sept. 30, the district has to provide training on harassment policies to teachers and staff.
Through 2017, the district has to report to the U.S. Department of Education how it is implementing anti-harassment policies.
Jenkins said after the meeting Monday that the district hasn't met certain benchmarks. For example, she said she didn't think that an email sent to parents with information about harassment policies under a heading about spring break fulfilled the terms of the agreement to share it with students and parents. She said a paper copy of the district's policies on harassment wasn't sent home with students.
"I have felt that the district has not been 100 percent committed to addressing the issues," she said.
However, Jenkins said she spoke to Chatfield, the district's attorney, after the meeting and Chatfield seemed "very willing to have a conversation."
On Tuesday, Chatfield told the Herald-Leader that printed information on the district's anti-harassment policies will go home with students this fall. She said posters describing the policies were placed in schools.
Jenkins told the school board that the harassment at issue is not the same as bullying. Under federal law, districts are responsible for providing students a nondiscriminatory educational environment and one that is not racially hostile, according to the letter from the U.S. Department of Education official.
Jenkins is an associate professor of accounting at the University of Kentucky, but she emphasized that she was speaking as a parent and not on behalf of the university or in her role as a UK employee.
Jenkins said she had set up an email address and a Facebook page so parents, students and residents could report acts of harassment. The Kentucky Department of Education report card for each school shows that incidents of harassment were reported at Meadowthorpe and other Fayette County schools.
Jenkins said Meadowthorpe officials appropriately admonished the students involved in the incidents her son faced.
But she said the district should take a more systematic approach in telling students what is and what isn't acceptable behavior.
"Students should have the expectation when they go to school that certain things will not be said to them, and if they are going to be said to them, then the district is going to stand on the side of the child who is being victimized," Jenkins said.