SPOKANE—A settlement has been reached in a discrimination lawsuit by Hispanics against a small north-central Washington school district, and a lawyer said only the amount of damages remains to be determined.
Both sides have signed a sweeping consent order that requires a number of steps to prevent discrimination in the combined junior-senior high school in Brewster, north of Wenatchee, said Darrell L. Cochran of Tacoma, who brought the case about a year ago.
One provision is the formation of a school office of minority affairs to investigate complaints of discrimination and harassment and a multiracial panel to assess and prevent discrimination in athletic programs. Another part of the deal requires collaboration with Hispanic parents and educators on curriculum to expose all students to Hispanic culture.
A hearing on the settlement is set for Oct. 30 before U.S. District Judge Robert H. Whaley.
A lawyer for the school district, which has about 420 junior and senior high students and 990 in kindergarten through grade 12, did not return a call to The Spokesman-Review, but interim Superintendent Dan Farrell told the newspaper Friday he was eager to be done with legal wrangling.
"We need to look at the decree as a way to strengthen the system and move forward," Farrell said. "The end result is a stronger school system for all kids."
The lawsuit was filed last October on behalf of eight parents and their children, and 17 other parents later joined the case, which named as defendants the school district, former Superintendent James D. Kelly and school Principal Randy Phillips.
Cochran said he hoped the settlement would help boost the status of Latinos, who account for nearly 70 percent of students in Brewster.
"In Brewster, Latino students had been relegated to second-class-citizen status unlike anything seen on the west side" (of the state)," the lawyer said. "Latinos were resigned to taking orchard jobs and not questioning their place in society."
Parents were organized by the League of United Latin American Citizens after Phillips, concerned about recent fighting that he believed was the result of gang activity, demanded on Nov. 6, 2003, that 27 students — all Hispanic — sign a contract stipulating that any future violation of school rules would be grounds for immediate suspension or expulsion.
With two police officers present, the students were told they showed less respect for each other, scored worse on tests, fought more than non-Hispanic students and were "going to end up working in the orchards like their parents," according to the lawsuit.
No non-Hispanic students were required to attend, although school officials knew some were in a gang called "the Orchard Monkey Killers," a derogatory reference to Hispanic agricultural workers, according to court filings.
In 2004 the Education Department's Office of Civil Rights found the district in violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which bars discrimination on the basis or race, color and national origin in programs and activities receiving federal funding. The district has since completed remedial action as required by the federal agency.
— The Associated Press