Department of Education Office for Civil Rights (OCR) supervising attorney Zachary Pelchat called Duveneck Principal Chris Grierson's notification of parents about an open complaint investigation "highly unusual" and said it raised concerns about the privacy rights of the complainant and the impact on the investigation, according to a letter to Superintendent Kevin Skelly dated April 17.
Pelchat also warned that the district exposes itself to new charges of retaliation if the family believes its complaint has led to intimidation or harassment by the school or district.
Grierson's emailed letter, which was quickly forwarded to the Weekly by Duveneck families, was odd because of the district's prior steadfast insistence on not providing any details on bullying cases that might lead to the identity of the students involved.
In an interview with the Weekly days earlier, Skelly declined to name the school or provide the age or gender of the student involved in the latest case, citing privacy policies and concerns. The Weekly's initial story did not name Duveneck, although it was updated after Grierson's email was sent out.
Skelly told the Weekly afterward he had approved Grierson's letter to parents and that its purpose was to "improve communications at the site" given the fact the Weekly was intending to publish a story.
Among other statements, Grierson had called the new investigation a response to a "national rally cry on bullying."
But OCR attorney Pelchat chastised the district on that point, stating, "Please note that the OCR does not open complaints based on a 'national rally cry.' Complaints alleging harassment based on disability are opened when they allege sufficient facts that, if true, would be a violation of the District's obligations under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act."
In response to the Office for Civil Rights warning letter, Skelly stated in an email to the OCR that the district was under "scrutiny" by the media and forwarded copies of requests for documents submitted by the Weekly.
Skelly declined to comment to the Weekly on why the email speculated the investigation was "addressing a national rally cry."
Grierson's email said that a parent at the school had contacted the Office for Civil Rights "expressing concerns about bullying behavior."
"Please do not be alarmed by the OCR's interest in this matter. As I see it, the OCR is addressing a national rally cry on the issue of bullying," he wrote. "I wanted to contact you with this information, rather than having you hear about it through the media or social media."
The school district received notification in early April of two new cases alleging illegal discrimination, the case now known to be at Duveneck involving bullying and disability discrimination, and a case at a middle school alleging racial discrimination.
The district is in the process of responding to lengthy requests from the Office for Civil Rights for documents and information in both cases.