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Melrose student found to be harassed based on race

The US Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights has determined a Melrose Memorial Middle School student “had been subjected to harassment based on race” during the spring of 2014, according to a statement by the school district’s superintendent.

A complaint was filed with the Office for Civil Rights in the fall of 2014. In a letter sent to Melrose Superintendent Cyndy S. Taymore on Nov. 24, 2014, Allen L. Kropp, an attorney for the Office for Civil Rights, wrote “Specifically, the complaint alleges that in the 2013-14 school year, a middle school teacher made derogatory remarks to one of her assigned students, directed at the student’s race. The complainants also reported that the District has failed to adequately respond to reports and/or complaints about the remarks. They maintain that the lack of response continues to subject students to a racially hostile environment.”

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The district — which hosts minority students from outside the city as part of the Metropolitan Council for Educational Opportunity, or Metco program — recently received verbal notification of the Office for Civil Rights’ finding that the incident had occurred, according to a statement released by Taymore. Federal officials have not provided any written notification or details regarding its determination, according to her statement.

“Recently, verbal notification was received that [the Office for Civil Rights] has determined that the school district was found to be in violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964,” Taymore wrote in the statement. “OCR additionally informed the Melrose Public Schools of its intent to enter into a dialogue with the school district to resolve this matter. At this point, OCR has not provided any written notification or details regarding its determination.”

The Title VI law prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin by recipients of federal financial assistance, including schools.

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Taymore did not return a call from the Globe seeking comment. Melrose Mayor Robert Dolan, who is a member of the School Committee, declined to comment.

Carrie Kourkoumelis, a member of the Melrose School Committee, said the teacher who is the subject of the investigation has retired.

“Many resources have been expended to cloak the Melrose School Committee’s and administration’s actions in secrecy,” said Kourkoumelis.

Kourkoumelis has been pressing Taymore for more information about the investigation and legal fees incurred by the district. In March, the superintendent denied Kourkoumelis’s public records request, citing attorney-client privilege and the state’s deliberative process exemption. Kourkoumelis appealed to Secretary of State William F. Galvin.

“I should not be denied access to those records,” Kourkoumelis said. “As a member of the School Committee, I am the client. The School Committee signs the warrants to pay the legal bills.”

On July 8, the state’s supervisor of public records ordered the district to produce the requested records within 10 days or provide a detailed explanation of the legal reasons for withholding the information. In a written response dated July 29, Taymore estimated that the labor costs for the search would total $7,638.75. That estimate did not include the cost of reproducing any records.

Kourkoumelis filed a second appeal. According to Brian McNiff, a spokesman for Galvin’s office, that appeal was opened Aug. 12. State officials are looking into the matter, he said.


Brenda J. Buote may be reached at brenda.buote@gmail.com.

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