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Feds launch investigation into Sebastopol's Analy High School discrimination claims

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A Santa Rosa husband and wife who pulled their son out of Analy High School last fall after he was subjected to what they say was constant harassment and threats because of his mixed race have filed a discrimination complaint against school officials.

In their complaint to the U.S. Department of Education, Raquel and John Mack accused both the school and the West Sonoma County Union High School District of violating federal civil rights laws. They argued school officials failed to properly handle and investigate incidents of racial bullying and harassment that their son, Evan, endured in class, at football practice and on social media while a student at the Sebastopol school.

The couple called for an independent investigation, which the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights launched a few weeks ago, according to a letter from the agency produced by the family. The letter states the agency will look into whether school officials violated federal civil rights laws under Title VI, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color and ethnicity in federally funded programs and activities. Since the school district receives money from the federal agency, it’s “subject to these laws and their regulations,” the letter stated.

Raquel Mack called the investigation a “vindication” for her family.

“We’re happy there is progress being made on this, finally,” she said. “It was not going to come from the school or the district.”

Federal officials did not respond to repeated messages seeking further comment on the investigation.

The school district superintendent confirmed an investigation is taking place.

“The district received an initial data request from the department and we have provide the department with all the information that was requested,” Superintendent Steven Kellner said in an email. “We look forward to working with the department to resolve this matter.”

Kellner previously said in January, when news of the issue broke, that the school did not have a race problem. He argued students policed themselves when it came to classmates acting inappropriately and that Analy, where 75 percent of the 1,300 students are white and 5 percent are black or biracial, and the other schools in the district have “a positive school culture.”

The Macks said they reported the harassment to school officials in August after a student called their son a racial slur and threatened him on an Instagram post: “Just because your (sic) a n— and think like that doesn’t mean I do but I will punch you in the f— mouth.”

After the Instagram post, another student sent a Facebook private message, threatening to “rip the black off” their son, said Raquel Mack, who provided federal investigators with copies of the threats.

The school district conducted an investigation into the complaints, but the Macks said it was inadequate and incomplete. They complained officials did not question all the students involved in the incidents, nor were any of the students disciplined. According to a school district letter to the family, the assistant principal did warn a student that continued harassment could result in school disciplinary actions.

School officials said in a letter to the Macks that the student who made the threat on Facebook was spoken to on the first day of school. The boy who made the threat on Instagram was never contacted because he no longer attended that school.

The Macks said school officials also did not talk to staff members who witnessed some of the harassment in class and on the sports field.

They said their son had been racially bullied since he was a freshman on the football team but didn’t tell them until August about classmates repeatedly calling him the N-word on the field and in class and singing lyrics to songs filled with X-rated and racial language. A fellow football player also asked him, “Why don’t you talk black?” the Macks said.

Staff had an obligation to report the harassment to the school, but never did, John Mack said.

“He was let down,” he said, referring to his son, a junior who since has transferred to another school district.

The Macks argued the school’s inaction allowed for a hostile learning environment for their son, who spent the beginning of the school year in independent study. According to the school, efforts were made to contact the substitute teacher who was present during one of the incidents. In addition, school officials said they talked to a football coach about students’ use of appropriate language.

“They’re severely lacking in it,” Mack said. “This is not acceptable in other places.”

You can reach Staff Writer Eloísa Ruano González at 521-5458 or eloisa.gonzalez@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @eloisanews.

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