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Federal investigation finds Lexington Middle principal created "hostile environment" for student

Posted at 7:17 PM, Dec 27, 2017
and last updated 2017-12-27 19:17:59-05

A Lee County mom says her daughter was bullied so badly, she moved her to a private school, and filed an official complaint with the federal Department of Education Office of Civil Rights.

Jacqueline Perez said the bullying wasn't just at the hands of a student, but the principal at Lexington Middle School, too.

The Lee County School District did their own investigation into this mom's claims, finding there wasn't enough evidence to support them, so Perez turned to the Department of Education. Four years after the alleged bullying took place, the DOE released their investigation's findings.

"I still become very emotional," Perez said. "This was the most difficult, hardest, painful fight I've ever had to endure in my entire life to defend my child."

Perez's daughter Gabriela has a disorder called hereditary angiodema.

"Under extreme circumstances and stress, the body elicits a chemical reaction that causes parts of her body to swell," Perez said.

In 2013, Perez said Gabriela was bullied by a boy at Lexington Middle School. She said it started as verbal threats and then became violent one day in the school's band locker room.

"With his agenda notebook wrapped in his hand like a weapon, he swung back like holding a bat and punched her in the face with it," Perez said.

The incident led to a swollen eye. 

"The principal blamed Gabriela," Perez said. "She pointed at my daughter. She said 'look how she looks. This is a school boy crush.'"

Perez said she was unhappy with how school staff and the district handled the case, so she filed a complaint with the Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights three years ago. 

Their investigation found school faculty made the situation worse.

It says the district "had reason to believe the student may, because of disability, need special education or related services," and "the district never evaluated the student" for a 504 disability accommodation plan, which is common for students with medical conditions. This violated policy.

The investigation also found "The principal subjected the student to disability-based harassing conduct that was sufficiently serious to interfere with or limit her ability to participate in or benefit from the school's services... and therefore created a hostile environment."

"A hostile environment for a 12-year-old disabled child who has a disease that is exasperated under stress," Perez said.

Superintendent Greg Adkins signed a resolution agreement saying the district will provide training for disability harassment and must provide counseling for Gabriela if she chooses to return to the school district. A source close to the investigation tells Fox 4 Adkins signed the resolution after being told by the OCR that the DOE was going to withhold a $10 million grant if he didn't.

The Lee County School District released this statement on the incident:

"OCR's findings were in the areas of disability based discrimination and disability based harassment. OCR found no violation of the student's rights with regard to sex discrimination or national origin discrimination.

As a result the District is required to do four things:

1)      Continue to provide staff training in the areas of disability harassment and discrimination;

2)      Review policies concerning disability harassment;

3)      Provide counseling to the former student if requested; and

4)      Evaluate the student for 504 eligibility

The District entered into the Resolution Agreement for this case after being informed by the OCR that a $10 million dollar grant to implement programs of academic excellence impacting thousands of our students would not be released without an agreement.

It is also noteworthy to add that a Federal lawsuit making similar claims was dismissed by U.S. Court Judge Sheri Polster Chappelle. The District is seeking costs from the parent as a result.

Each day our district provides personalized instruction, dedicated support and collaborative teaching to more than 16,000 students with disabilities. We are dedicated to ensuring each of them reaches his or her highest potential, and proud that their parents trust us to be partners in their child's education."