Burlington School District settles with DOJ over sex discrimination allegations

Local News

BURLINGTON, Vt. – The Burlington School District has entered into a settlement agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice over complaints of sex discrimination at the Sustainability Academy elementary school.

The settlement was first reported by Burlington High School’s student-run newspaper, the BHS Register. It was described as harassment between students.

The DOJ conducted an initial investigation after a group of parents complained their children had been subjected to “severe and pervasive sex-based harassment, including assault, that went unaddressed by the district.”

Superintendent Yaw Obeng said the complaint centered around an incident in 2016.

“It was a student-on-student bullying and harassment situation, particularly around gender fluidity,” said Superintendent Yaw Obeng.

The settlement includes potential changes in harassment training as well as the appointment of a District Nondiscrimination Coordinator. It also requires the district to conduct a biannual school climate survey at the Sustainability Academy.

The survey will “assess the presence and effects of harassment and bullying and the inclusiveness and safety of the educational environment,” according to the settlement.

The Mid-Atlantic Equity Consortium, a non-profit organization, will aid in ensuring the procedures for reporting, investigating and responding to sex-based harassment are followed.

We asked Obeng to detail what the staff’s response was to the 2016 incident.

“That was years ago, so I’m not sure. It wasn’t something that was school-wide,” Obeng said. “It’s pretty confidential when it’s a student case. I’ll tell you the staff has welcomed the response because this is an opportunity to look at our practices.”

Obeng said the DOJ had no complaints regarding district policy, but their implementation needs work.

“Many of our staff hasn’t had the training or support to address it, so this is an opportunity to build that capacity,” Obeng said.

The settlement extends through the 2021-22 school year. Through its duration, the DOJ may conduct site visits, observe trainings, interview District staff and students (with parent permission), confer with the Equity Center, and request any additional information or data necessary to determine whether the District has fulfilled the terms of this Agreement.

Editors of the BHS Register were awarded the ‘Courage in Student Journalism Award’ last month for their reporting on allegations of unprofessional conduct by former guidance director Mario Macias.

The Sustainability Academy is one of six elementary schools in Burlington.

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