Federal civil rights officials have told Portland Public Schools
there could be an investigation into an incident at Buckman Elementary School this fall,
when a Spanish-speaking kindergarten boy faced a five-day suspension for "assault."
In a Dec. 2 letter,
[PDF] the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights
in Seattle tells Superintendent Carole Smith
the office has accepted a discrimination complaint against the district under the authority of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
The allegations stem from a dispute in late September. According to a note written in English to the boy's mother, Carolina Garcia, a teacher accused Garcia's 5-year-old son of assault, menacing, repeated incidences of battery and insubordination. He “kicked and spit” at the teacher when she tried to have him sit in his chair. “He tried to hide in the hallway,” the disciplinary record says. “When [the teacher] brought him back he went to the rug and hit a student on the arm.” During bingo, “he kept hitting others.” And during recess outside, he “kicked another child on the head.”
A second note in Spanish summarized the events for the mother, who does not speak English, but offered few details. That omission is at the heart of the civil rights complaint. According to the federal education department, PPS may have discriminated against the mother and boy by failing to communicate effectively with the family in a language they understood.
The district now has three options. It can enter a federally facilitated resolution between the district and the family. It can draft its own voluntary written agreement to resolve the dispute. Or it can ask the feds to investigate. Only if the district were found not to be in compliance with federal law, would the district face sanctions.