FEDERAL WAY, Wash. — Federal Way Public Schools has agreed to better track and prevent bullying as part of a settlement with the U.S. Justice Department, changes the district says have been underway for years.
The DOJ said Thursday it stepped in after investigating complaints from families, finding that the district had failed to adequately respond to students’ complaints that they were physically and verbally harassed by their peers because of their religion or national origin.
According to the district, the incidents referred to occurred from 2013 to 2015. A new Federal Way Public Schools administration began implementing districtwide policies on racial and cultural equity in 2015, before the DOJ informed the district about its investigation in the 2016-17 school year, said district spokeswoman Kassie Swenson.
“As part of this new vision, every year for the last five years, we’ve offered and intensified staff training on cultural competence and racial equity for all staff to achieve equitable outcomes for scholars in all areas,” Swenson said in an emailed statement.
Many of the changes memorialized in the settlement agreement are already underway, she said.
Seattle U.S. Attorney Brian Moran credited Federal Way with immediately agreeing to take steps to improve, including by working with a consultant update its anti-harassment policies and training staff members on how to properly communicate with parents and guardians who are not proficient in English.
“Discrimination in schools based on religion or national origin violates federal law and is antithetical to our nation’s values,” Eric S. Dreiband, assistant attorney general for the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division, said in a news release. The settlement was reached before any litigation and was not filed in court. Under the agreement, the district will track all bullying incidents, with data that include the names of those involved and witnesses, and file reports with the Justice Department. The DOJ will also be allowed to conduct site visits to help ensure compliance.