CHIPPEWA FALLS, Wis. (WLAX/WEUX) – The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction has denied appeals filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin on behalf of a student and a civil rights organization over discrimination claims within the Chippewa Falls Area Unified School District.

In a release from the CFASD, it says the district conducted extensive investigations of the complaints and determined that District staff acted properly. CFAUSD says DPI determined that the District’s investigations met the requirements of applicable law and that the investigative records supported the District’s conclusions. The District said that its instructional and library media materials selection policy complied with state law, and added that the ACLU has not pursued further review of the District’s investigation process and conclusions.

The decisions by the DPI cover a complaint of a student’s claims of racism against her and Cultivative Coalition, a group of Chippewa Falls high school graduates. The complaints alleged the District discriminated against students “on the basis of race, sex, and sexual orientation by causing, encouraging, accepting and tolerating a school climate hostile to students with those protected statuses.” The complaints also alleged that the District disciplined students differently on the basis of race and that the District failed to “meet its statutory responsibility to provide appropriately diverse instructional materials,” according to the release.

In a statement from the ACLU, it says DPI did not reverse the District’s decision for the technical reason that the members of the Cultivative Coalition had already graduated and, therefore, would not benefit from any corrective action by the District. It says the decision “means that the District can ignore the multitude of evidence provided by the Cultivative Coalition that shows pervasive harassment in the District.”

The CFAUSD said in its release that it “is pleased with the results reached by DPI,” while acknowledging that there is still work to do.

“The District recognizes that there is still much work to be done to educate students and, more broadly, the community, about the rights and responsibilities that we all share to prevent and address discrimination.”

It says because of confidentiality laws regarding pupil records, the District isn’t able to release any specific information about complaint allegations and decisions made by the District.

Full statement from ACLU:

“The ACLU of Wisconsin criticized the Department of Public Instruction’s decision today that allows the Chippewa Falls Area Unified School District (CFAUSD) to continue to ignore the discriminatory environment in its schools.

In September, the ACLU of Wisconsin filed an appeal on behalf of the Cultivative Coalition, an organization of current and former students of the CFAUSD who experienced persistent and severe discriminatory harassment at school. The appeal challenged the District’s perfunctory and evasive handling of the pupil discrimination complaint that the ACLU filed earlier this year on behalf of the Coalition.

In its decision, DPI chastised the District for failing to “investigate the complaint’s allegations to determine whether facts exist that are sufficient to find a hostile environment.” DPI warned the District that any future investigations “must make this important initial finding.” However, DPI did not reverse the District’s decision for the technical reason that the members of the Cultivative Coalition had already graduated and, therefore, would not benefit from any corrective action by the District.

Today’s decision means that the District can ignore the multitude of evidence provided by the Cultivative Coalition that shows pervasive harassment in the District.

“We’re disappointed by today’s decision by DPI, and concerned that it may lead to more unchecked harassment of students enrolled in CFAUSD. Despite the decision, we are proud of the members of the Cultivative Coalition who were brave enough to take a stand and share their stories of racial, gender, and sexual harassment,” said Elisabeth Lambert, staff attorney with the ACLU of Wisconsin. “Even though this decision is disappointing, we remain committed to our fight to end discrimination in Wisconsin schools.”

“While today’s decision is not what we hoped for, we are empowered by the students and families who came forward to share their traumatic experiences of discrimination in the Chippewa Falls Area Unified School District,” the Cultivative Coalition said in a statement.

“Cultivative Coalition and our allies will continue to advocate for the students and families whose lives have been forever altered by the pervasive discriminatory behaviors that plague CFAUSD hallways. Unfortunately, this decision means that marginalized students and their families in the CFAUSD will continue to experience the lifelong pain of unaddressed harassment and discrimination.

Our platform and organization will remain a place for marginalized students to share their experiences, and our mission endures: to confront discrimination and to create an educational space where all people feel a shared sense of belonging.

To current, former, and future students and families of the CFAUSD, this decision is not the end of our fight. We will continue our longstanding battle for inclusivity and hope you will join us in vocal opposition to the discriminatory behavior students continue to endure at CFAUSD.”

  • Alyssa Mauk, Communications Director, ACLU of Wisconsin