Rhinelander School District to apply changes in Title IX complaint resolution

Agreement includes training, education, reporting

By Eileen Persike

MMC Staff

RHINELANDER – The School District of Rhinelander (SDR) has agreed to take specific steps to resolve a complaint filed against the district with the U.S. Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights (OCR).

According to OCR, the complaint alleged the district discriminated against a student based on their gender identity when teachers failed to use the student’s name and pronouns associated with their gender. The complaint also alleged the district failed to respond appropriately to students harassing the student based on their gender identity.

These events were alleged to have taken place during the 2021-22 school year.

The complaint falls under Title IX of the Education Amendments, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in any educational program or activity operated by a recipient of federal financial assistance – assistance which SDR receives.

“Congress promises every student a right to fully participate in educational programs without harassment based on sex. Rhinelander School District has now committed to take steps to ensure that promise of equal access to education for all its students,” said Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Catherine E. Lhamon.

OCR’s investigation included reviewing documents from the complainant and the school district and interviewed the complainant and four district staff members – the Title IX coordinator, the Rhinelander High School (RHS) associate principal and two RHS teachers.

Before the investigation concluded, the district expressed interest in resolving the complaint; OCR determined a resolution agreement is “appropriate in this case” because the investigation identified concerns that can be addressed through a resolution agreement, according to a press release.

In a statement to the Northwoods Star Journal, SDR Superintendent Eric Burke said through the resolution agreement the district will provide additional training to students and staff on discrimination, harassment and bullying. It is something he said the district has been working on for more than a year.

“We continuously provide training to our students and staff, so agreeing to provide more training was a commitment we have already embraced,” Burke said. “The district is committed to providing a safe environment for all students.”

Through the resolution agreement, Burke added, the district is committed to providing a “benefit to all students instead of fighting over the merit of the allegations in the complaint.”

Burke noted the student is no longer enrolled at SDR and the family moved out of state more than a year ago.

In the six-page resolution agreement, the district has agreed to meet with the complainant and the student to discuss compensatory measures, including grade adjustments due to instructional time the student missed by attending limited in-person classes; provide training to all district teachers and staff regarding the requirements of Title IX by the end of Oct. 2023; provide, by the end of October, age-appropriate lessons for high school students on the district’s policies prohibiting sex-based harassment; by Nov. 17, 2023, conduct a climate survey to assess the effectiveness of the training among students and make sure the school is free of sex-based harassment; and take specific reporting actions for each of the measures and create an electronic record system to track all reports of sex-based harassment.

OCR will monitor SDR’s progress during the resolution process until it determines the district is in compliance with both the terms of the agreement and Title IX.

A link to the complete resolution can be found at www.starjournalnow.com.

The School District of Rhinelander and the U.S. Department of Education have entered into aa resolution agreement following a student’s complaint about sex-based harassment at the high school during the 2021-22 school year. MMC photo.
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