Panel to monitor Coatesville schools

The Pa. Human Relations Commission says it will check the district after the texting scandal.

Posted: March 26, 2014

The state's civil rights commission will be monitoring the Coatesville Area School District to make sure it keeps its promises to be more transparent and equitable in the wake of the texting scandal that showed the district needs help being both, the commission said in a report Monday.

The Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission, which has been in touch periodically with district administrators since September, recommended the district hold more cultural events for students and the community, use social media and other means to communicate with district residents, and hire someone solely to make sure the district treats everyone equally.

Commission spokesperson Shannon Powers said members expected to announce the district's plan of action at Monday's meeting, but the board does not have one yet. However, the board told the commission on March 20 that it was "agreeable and amenable" to the recommendations, the commission said.

The commission, which helps enforce antidiscrimination laws, partnered with the U.S. Department of Justice and the NAACP to issue the recommendations. About 35 people attended Monday night's monthly meeting of the commission, which was held at a church in Coatesville.

The first step in creating the plan is administering a confidential survey to students and staff to determine the climate in the district, said Pamela Gwaltney, the commission's education attorney. By early April, the commission and the district will agree on the specific plans of action, timelines and requirements of a memorandum of agreement between the two groups.

The discovery of racist and sexist text messages exchanged between former district superintendent Richard Como and former athletic director James Donato led not only to their resignations early in the school year, but also to investigations into the district by several state and county agencies, including the civil rights commission. During the past few months, district residents have filed bias complaints against the district to the commission and the state branch of the NAACP.

"We are working with the school district and our partners to help ensure that Coatesville students have the opportunity to learn in a fair and unbiased environment," the commission chairman, Gerald Robinson said in a statement.

The commission's report comes a little more than a week after the state branch of the NAACP released a report saying the federal Department of Justice and Office of Civil Rights should monitor the district.

"We need what the NAACP is going to bring to us," said school board member Deborah Thompson. "We need what the DOJ is going to bring to us. And we need what the PHRC is going to bring." She said Coatesville can become a model for change.

610-313-8105 @MichaelleBond

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