Federal agency rules OPRF did not discriminate

4 of 5 cases reviewed involved disciplinary actions

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By DREW CARTER

A federal agency has found that Oak Park and River Forest High School did not discriminate against students in five incidents, mostly involving disciplinary actions, from last school year. The cases were submitted to the agency for review.

In five separate letters addressed to Supt. Susan Bridge, Don Ray Pollar of the U.S. Dept. of Education's Office for Civil Rights, states the office found "insufficient evidence" to support claims of discrimination and retaliation made in complaints.

The letters state that because OPRF receives federal funding it is "subject to the provisions of Title VI, which prohibit retaliation and discrimination based upon race and color."

Four of the letters are dated June 11 and address concerns over whether discipline was meted out fairly to the students in question. The fifth letter, dated June 23, deals with a claim that an African-American football player was made fourth-string quarterback despite being more qualified than white students in the starting, first- and second-string positions.

In its investigation, however, the office found the "difference in treatment was due to the coaches' belief that [the student] exhibited a poor attitude," that he had not learned the plays, and that disciplinary actions and an injury kept him out of a portion of the season.

The student received a five-day suspension for "mob action" stemming from a locker room fight, and had earlier been suspended from the team 10 days for hitting the student selected to start at the quarterback position. The disciplined student quit the team before the end of the season.

In another letter, the office rules on an incident where a Hispanic student attacked an African-American student because he believed the student had groped his girlfriend.

The student's mother has long contended in public meetings that her son's punishment?#34;a 10-day suspension followed by expulsion, early graduation and being barred from graduation and prom?#34;were overly harsh. It was the student's first offense.

But the Office for Civil Rights' investigation found that a white student involved in a similar incident in the 2002-03 school year was also expelled. It was that student's first offense, too.

The office reviewed 30 more student files and "determined that the district disciplined students charged with gross misconduct consistent with its code."

In investigating a complaint based on a different student, the office reviewed disciplinary records of first fighting offenses in the 2003-04 and 2004-05 school years. "This information revealed that students of all races were disciplined in accordance with the range of available punishments prescribed by the code for fighting, specifically, three-day in-school suspension to five-day out-of-school suspensions." The office found that in one case an African-American student received a more lenient punishment, a one-day in-school suspension.

That complaint had alleged that the African-American student in question had been suspended for fighting, but that the white students with whom he fought were not. The letter states that the district gave three-day suspensions to all three students involved in the incident.

CONTACT: dcarter@wjinc.com

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