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Woman files civil rights complaint against Park City School District

SHARE Woman files civil rights complaint against Park City School District

A woman has filed a complaint against the Park City School District alleging her daughter experienced antisemitic bullying.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

Season Cain said she tried working directly with school officials for four months before finally filing an Office for Civil Rights complaint in December.

The Park City mother said her family is Jewish and her daughter was experiencing antisemitic bullying at Ecker Middle School, with students saying they hate Jewish people or saying "KKK" in her daughter's face, over and over.

Cain said her daughter has also witnessed other students experience similar discrimination.

Her daughter is still attending Ecker Middle School but has been afraid to go because she doesn't believe the administration will protect her or her friends. However, she is "very vocal," Cain said. "My daughter is a civil rights activist, just like I am."

Cain said the Park City School District was served notice of the complaint on Feb. 16. District spokeswoman Lorie Pearce said in a statement that the Park City School District will provide whatever assistance it can as the Office for Civil Rights works to complete its review.

"The Park City School District has been and remains committed to providing a working and learning environment free from harassment, prohibited discrimination and retaliation," Pearce said in the statement.

Civil rights attorney Jason Langberg, who is investigating the allegations for the Office for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Education, did not return a request for comment.

All federal agencies have an Office for Civil Rights and, in this case, it will work to "ensure equal access to education and to promote educational excellence through vigorous enforcement of civil rights in our nation's schools," according to the education department website. It shows a total of 16 cases resolved in Utah since 2014.

It's unknown how long investigations can take, though Cain said she's been told it may take a year to complete.

She said when her daughter first experienced antisemitic bullying, at the start of the school year, she met with Ecker Middle School Principal Amy Jenkins and an assistant principal. They devised an "appropriate" response plan that they all agreed on, Cain said — but in the months that followed, school administration "gave me the runaround."

Ultimately, she said school administrators told her they wouldn't follow through with the plan; and when asked why, Cain said they would only give her "vague" answers about adhering to policies. When she asked to see those policies, Cain said she was directed to another administrator, who still hasn't given her the policies in question.

During those four months of back-and-forth, Cain said her daughter witnessed four more discrimination incidents at school. "This is spreading like wildfire," Cain said she told administrators, and also asked them, again, to follow through with the previously agreed-upon action plan.

When administrators refused, Cain said she decided to file the Office for Civil Rights complaint. Only then did Jenkins send a letter to students and parents about the incidents, Cain said, and visited classrooms to discuss the bullying.

"It's just sad that it took (a complaint being filed) for her to do anything," Cain said.

She said she hopes the investigation results in students receiving "very age-appropriate" curriculum from the Anti-Defamation League. She also hopes for the creation of peer support groups. Her daughter has been trying to create such a group for months, Cain said, but school administrators haven't gotten back to her about it.

She also wants Equity Task Forces that aren't invitation-only, and meetings open to parents and students.

Cain, who works as a mental health professional serving middle school-aged kids, said she's no longer open to mediation with the school district, because previous efforts got her nowhere. She said 95% of her clientele are suicidal because of bullying.

"I don't want any of these kids that are bullying to be punished. ... They need education; let's provide education and awareness," Cain said. "And (school administrators have) refused to do so for four months, and the bullying increased, the waitlist for my clientele of suicidal kids increased. I'm trying to prevent suicides here, trying to be part of the solution, and they would not do anything until the federal civil rights office got involved."