YAKIMA, Wash. — The Yakima School District is the focus of a U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights compliance review, dealing with discipline records, anti-harassment policies and student achievement, among other things.
District deputy superintendent Jack Irion said the federal office’s February 2011 request for 21 different types of information was not spurred by complaints. That agency said it was “simply doing a compliance review, which is kind of like an audit,” he said.
“I did want to know if it was based on a complaint, and the answer was no,” Irion said.
Irion said the agency told him the school district was selected at random.
“This is not an investigation or anything like that,” he said.
The department’s Office for Civil Rights is tasked with ensuring equal access to education. It has authority to conduct periodic compliance reviews of programs receiving federal funding. The office’s website says that “agency-initiated cases, typically called compliance reviews, permit OCR to target resources on compliance problems that appear particularly acute.”
The Yakima review is one of five civil rights reviews currently under way in the state, according to a report Wednesday in The Seattle Times. Two deal with the Seattle School District — for potential discipline disparities by race and for services for students learning English — one deals with services for students learning English in the Lake Washington School District and the other is a statewide review dealing with gender issues in scholastic sports, according to The Seattle Times report.
The education department has said it does not discuss why it chooses specific school districts to investigate, but a spokesman told The Seattle Times that in general it initiates reviews on issues that “are particularly acute or national in scope.”
Irion said the department’s request to the Yakima district did not deal specifically with students learning English, though it did ask for policies dealing with discrimination and harassment based on race, color, gender, national origin or disability. Those policies are publicly available on the district’s website: yakimaschools.org/policy/3210.pdf.
As of October 2012, the 15,627-student Yakima School District was 73 percent Hispanic.
Other information the federal office requested, such as two years of discipline records, took more time to assemble, he said.
The Office for Civil Rights did not say when its review would be finished, Irion said.
Irion said he did not feel as though the Yakima district was unlucky or that it was being picked on, though it did take a lot of work to respond to the federal request for information.
“One of the positive aspects of a compliance review is you do have an outside party take a look at what you’ve been doing, and you can make sure you’re doing things correctly,” he said.
Irion said he hopes that the review affirms the district’s policies and practices, but if it does not, that will be good to know, too.
“There can be some lessons learned,” he said.