The Sauk Prairie School District has been cleared by federal investigators after an anonymous complaint to the Office of Civil Rights, U.S. Department of Education was filed against the district in August.
The district is one of many educational entities across Wisconsin including other school districts, colleges and universities that the Office of Civil Rights is investigating on behalf of an unnamed complainant.
At issue was whether nine pages of its website violated federal laws requiring website content and functions be accessible to persons with disabilities, whether visual, auditory, physical/motor cognitive.
At the Nov. 13 Sauk Prairie School District school board meeting, Supt. Cliff Thompson told board members the district received a letter from the Office of Civil Rights in October stating it would be closing its investigation and would not seek action based on the complaint.
Thompson said immediately upon receiving the complaint, Dan Johnson, technology coordinator for the district, began working with the district’s web developer CMS4Schools and the district’s attorney, David McFarlane regarding the matter. Thompson said because of the timely, remedial action it took, the Office of Civil Rights officially closed the investigation and cleared the district.
Thompson said McFarlane recommended the incident be made public and brought to the board because it involved legal time. Thompson said McFarlane also told the district that while the federal complaint had been closed, the plaintiff’s law firms are filing private suits against schools — primarily colleges and universities — alleging violations of accessibility obligations under federal law.
“For that reason, Dan and other administrators and David have been reviewing district policies, administrative guidelines and other documents to identify recommend changes to minimize the risk of future complaints and show of commitment to complying with accessibility requirements,” Thompson said. “Dan has also been developing training programs and checking accessibility issues for all content on the district’s website. Recommended policy changes will be brought to the board as soon as possible.”
Thompson said the report was “very positive” about a topic that is still being sorted out in the state.
The district’s attorney, David McFarlane, was unavailable for comment as of press time.
In other district news:
The district is up an additional 10 students from its Third Friday Count, bringing the district’s total new students this year to 35.
The district’s calendar committee released its first draft of the 2018-19 school district calendar and is currently seeking input from staff. Thompson said so far they have received feedback from six staff members. Sauk Prairie High School Principal Chad Harnisch, who serves on the committee, said the calendar is “nearly an exact duplicate” of the current year, with minor changes. Thompson said calendar language was cleared up for accuracy and transparency and noted the district will have 176 student days and 190 teacher contract days.
Bridges Elementary School principal Chanda Kulow and teacher Jennifer Diaz-Tegen presented an annual update of the school, and highlighted its strengths and areas of growth.
Diaz-Tegen said Bridges is strong in student behavioral expectations, staff collaboration, inclusion and co-teaching, common planning time practices, building relationships with students and incorporating purposeful play into classrooms.
Kulow said the school has three areas it wants to grow, such as instilling positivity and safety in classrooms, instructional excellence for teachers by increasing academic growth, and eliminating the achievement gap, which is helped through co-teaching and inclusionary efforts, Kulow said.
“I’m just blown away,” said board member Mary Ann Marx. “It looks like a fabulous plan. I love how you are helping kids develop strengths at a very young age. A lot of times it’s easy to focus on the problem, rather than the strengths. So what you are doing is helping them develop self-awareness and emotional intelligence; that helps them as they go along and get such a strong part of it in the early years.”