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East Aurora approves agreement following federal bullying probe

Attorney Brooke Whitted  walks about AnnForth 14 who is currently student Simmons Middle Whitted Cleary Takiff law firm Northbrook.

Attorney Brooke Whitted walks about Anna Forth, 14, who is currently a student at Simmons Middle at the Whitted, Cleary, Takiff law firm in Northbrook. May 17, 2013. Forth and another East Aurora middle school students filed complaints that they were bullied. | John Konstantaras~For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: July 20, 2013 6:23AM

AURORA — The East Aurora School Board voted unanimously to enter into an agreement with the federal government Monday that will require the district to develop more detailed anti-discrimination and harassment policies, examine the district’s student code of conduct and issue progress reports to the federal government over the next two years.

The agreement was prompted by complaints filed earlier this year by two female students with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, who alleged they were bullied at two East Aurora middle schools because of their race and that staff knew about the incidents but did not do enough to stop them.

Student Anna Forth and her family, as well as another student who did not want to be named, contacted Northbrook-based lawyer Brooke Whitted, who deals often with bullying cases. He filed complaints on their behalf with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, which can investigate discrimination based on various protected statuses.

As part of the agreement with the federal government, East Aurora will conduct an investigation by Aug. 16 of the harassment of one of those two female students. The district also said it will take “all steps necessary” to ensure she is “not subjected to a hostile environment,” including possible disciplinary actions against students who have harassed her.

Bernard Weiler, a lawyer for the district, said East Aurora already has many policies and procedures in place to prevent discrimination and harassment, and that the agreement will prompt the district to consolidate and clarify those rules.

According to the agreement, the district must develop detailed anti-discrimination and harassment policies by Aug. 8 that include specific examples of prohibited conduct, an explanation of how to report discrimination or harassment, how to file a complaint and information about medical and counseling available to students and witnesses. The policies also must require district employees to document all reported incidents, develop a record-keeping protocol and identify in detail how the district will investigate alleged discrimination or harassment.

By Aug. 8, the district has to align the student code of conduct to the anti-discrimination and harassment policies and procedures and submit it to the federal government for approval.

By Nov. 9, the district has to train all teachers, administrators, aides and other personnel who supervise students on the policies and student code of conduct, as well as train school staff who deal with discrimination and harassment complaints. The district then must provide documentation of the trainings to the federal government.

For the next two school years, the district has to provide a report at the end of every academic semester to the federal government documenting the steps it has taken “to avert the formation of, or to address the existence of, a hostile environment at” Cowherd Middle School, the school that one of the female students who was bullied formerly attended.

The report must include documentation of all reported incidents of discrimination and harassment, steps taken after the reports were made and related disciplinary actions.

Weiler said the district plans to select a staffer by next week to oversee the new reporting requirements and mandates to review the district’s policies and student code of conduct.

School Board President Annette Johnson said that Christine Warren, the district’s director for secondary programs, would oversee the new reporting requirements and mandates to review the district’s policies and student code of conduct.

Johnson added that the school board is in the process of updating its policies to align with the Illinois Association of School Boards standards.

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