School District Rhinelander enters agreement with U.S. Dept. of Education over student harassment

School District of Rhinelander

The School District of Rhinelander will re-evaluate how it responds to student harassment.

It’s part of a voluntary resolution agreement with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights [OCR] over a “sex-based harassment investigation.”

The OCR announced Thursday that it entered into the agreement to ensure the district was complying with Title IX when responding to harassment based on gender identity.

OCR conducted an investigation for the 2021-2022 school year when a nonbinary student and their parent reported to the district about that student being mocked and targeted by other students during multiple classes.

Multiple teachers repeatedly used incorrect pronouns. One teacher removed the student from the class because the teacher couldn’t protect the student from harassment from other students.

The OCR found students were bumping into the harassed student in the hallways and were calling the student a derogatory slur for LGBTQ+ people.

The School District of Rhinelander’s ultimate response to the harassment allegations was to change the student’s schedule.

The student that was being harassed attended school in-person for only three classes and took additional classes through self-directed study.

Through the investigation, OCR also said it had concerns about how the district kept records of miscoded sex-based harassment.

OCR says the district didn’t adequately document multiple complaints brought by the nonbinary student and their parent. The district also didn’t adequately document its response to the complaints.

The district’s Title IX coordinator said she was unaware of reports of sex-based harassment of the student until after the complaint was filed with OCR.

“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 in a statement.

The School District of Rhinelander agreed to several changes as part of an agreement with the OCR.

They include:

  • Evaluating whether compensatory services or other services are necessary for the harassed student due to the instructional time the student missed when attending in-person classes on an only part-time basis.
  • Providing training to all district administrators and staff regarding the district’s obligation, in compliance with Title IX, to respond to complaints of sex-based harassment.
  • Providing age-appropriate information programs for students to address sex-based harassment, including what students should do if they believe they or other students have experienced such harassment. And,
  • Conducting a climate survey to assess the prevalence of sex-based harassment and obtain suggestions for effective ways to address harassment.

You can view the entire agreement here.

WXPR emailed Rhinelander Superintendent Eric Burke for comment.

He responded Thursday afternoon saying the School District of Rhinelander entered into a resolution agreement with the Office of Civil Rights to address a complaint made by a transgender student in 2021.

The student is no longer a student in the District and the family moved out of state more than a year ago.

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

Through the resolution agreement, the District said it's committed to providing a benefit to all students instead of fighting over the merit of the allegations in the complaint.

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Katie Thoresen is WXPR's News Director/Vice President.