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Wednesday, November 2, 2005 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

Parents sue district over treatment of Latinos

BREWSTER, Okanogan County — The Brewster School District has discriminated against Latino students for years and has done little to change, according to a lawsuit filed by some parents in U.S. District Court in Spokane.

The lawsuit seeks an undetermined amount in monetary damages, plus education of staff and mechanisms to make it easier for minority students to file complaints and have their concerns investigated.

"As long as there have been Latino kids at the Brewster School District, our understanding is, they have been discriminated against," said Darrell Cochran, a Tacoma lawyer who filed the lawsuit Oct. 21.

Brewster High School Principal Randy Phillips declined to comment, saying he hadn't seen the lawsuit.

The school district has been dealing with discrimination allegations ever since Phillips called a meeting of Latino students two years ago, telling them they had less respect for each other, scored worse on tests and fought more than white students.

Phillips has said the meeting was an attempt to stop violence, and came after the eighth fight in two months involving Latino students.

Last July, federal investigators found that the school had violated the civil rights of the 27 students who attended the meeting, and the district agreed to issue a formal apology to their parents and to send staff to diversity training.

The lawsuit contends that discrimination in the school district — where 77 percent of the student body is Hispanic — is pervasive and ongoing.

Cochran said the Nov. 6, 2003, meeting was a clear violation of the Civil Rights Act, which protects against discrimination on the basis of race or national origin. He said the rest of the information in the lawsuit comes from anecdotes provided by students and parents. The lawsuit alleges that:

• Offensive comments, name-calling, graffiti and derogatory jokes about Latinos are tolerated and accepted by district administrators and employees.

• The school district implemented a curriculum that demeans Latino students.

• Teachers have inappropriately used racially demeaning language in class.

• No meaningful racial harassment or diversity training has been provided.

The lawsuit asks the court to order the district to create a minority-affairs office, provide diversity training for all administrators, teachers, staff and students, develop a parent-complaint process and adopt a zero-tolerance policy for racial or ethnic harassment.

The suit also seeks development of a curriculum that exposes all students to Latino culture.

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