By Erin Roll
Ten civil rights complaints have been filed with U.S. Department of Education against Montclair schools over the past three and a half years, according to a June report by ProPubica.
ProPublica compiled the database of civil rights violations ranging from racial discrimination in school discipline to sexual violence to special education accessibility against school districts and public colleges and universities since January 2015.
Of the 10 cases filed against the Montclair public schools since 2015, only one was sustained, a case related to the accessibility of websites and online courses.
Seven were found not sustained and included four cases related to special education. One case concerned an employee alleging different treatment, exclusion and denial of benefits, another alleged retaliation, and one alleged not being given equal access to athletics.
Two pending cases fall under the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Title VI, which prohibits discrimination based on race, color or national origin in any program or activity that receives public funding.
In 2016, the Montclair school website was found to be inaccessible to people with disabilities by the U.S. Civil Rights Office.
In its investigation, the Civil Rights Office looked at several pages on the site, including the homepage, special education page, anti-bullying page and a video about Edgemont Montessori School. The Civil Rights Office found that the website was not user-friendly for users who had vision problems or motor skills difficulties. For example, the video on Edgemont was not closed-captioned, the site did not have visually apparent keyboard controls, and the site didn’t allow users of special software to skip to the main content of the pages.
“These barriers deny persons with disabilities access to programs, services and activities offered on the website and may impede the district’s communications with persons with disabilities,” the Civil Rights Office wrote in a letter to the district.
The district passed a resolution in November 2016 agreement outlining the steps it planned to take to make the website more accessible. However, the district did not deliver that resolution within the 90-day negotiation period after the Civil Rights Office sent its original violation notice.
Superintendent Kendra Johnson said some of the changes had been made to the website, but would not say what those changes were and what still needed to be done.
The two pending cases are Title VI cases, one referring to admissions and the other to gifted and talented programs, science, math and tech courses and college/career readiness.
Of the seven found to have no violations, dismissal was due to insufficient evidence, the case not being timely and/ or the matters had already been addressed in a previous investigation.
Board of Education Vice President Joe Kavesh served as the chair of the Montclair Civil Rights Commission (CRC) from 2014 to 2018. “During my tenure as chair of the CRC, we provided residents the opportunity to voice their concerns with respect to civil rights compliance at the township and district level. As part of the CRC’s mandate, we often made recommendations to the township council when presented with such complaints,” he said.
Christa Rapoport, the current chair of the CRC, said that the commission could not comment on the two pending cases at this time, but the commission planned to discuss the cases during its Sept. 20 meeting.
Montclair had a higher number of civil rights cases than neighboring districts. Glen Ridge, Cedar Grove and Bloomfield had one case each during that same time period. None of those cases were found to have any violations. Verona did not appear in the database. West Orange had a total of six cases, none of which were sustained. East Orange had four cases. One of them, a case involving allegations of racial harassment, was found to be sustained.