Twin Valley School District failed to address harassment and ‘hostile educational environment,’ federal investigation finds

A sign saying "Teachers are our Marigolds" hangs outside the entrance to Twin Valley Middle-High School, in a photo posted to the school's Facebook page in 2018.

A federal investigation found that the Twin Valley Unified Union School District failed to prevent a “hostile” school climate that included “targeted peer harassment” at Twin Valley Middle-High School, officials announced Thursday.

In a settlement with the Department of Justice and the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the district agreed to update its policies, improve training programs, and monitor the school’s environment more closely, the agencies said.

“Schools should feel safe for all children, but when harassment does happen, schools have an obligation to respond appropriately so that every child has equal access to their education,” U.S. Attorney for the District of Vermont Nikolas P. Kerest said in a press release. “Here, the school district has agreed to take significant steps to improve its process for responding to harassment and its overall educational environment.”

In response to a request for comment, Barbara Komons-Montroll, the superintendent of the Windham Southwest Supervisory Union, sent a statement saying that the Twin Valley district had taken numerous steps to assess and improve its school climate, even before the settlement.

“We take this issue extremely seriously and have redoubled our dedication and commitment to creating a welcoming and inclusive environment for all students,” the statement reads. “The Agreement with the Department of Justice is an opportunity for us to continue to improve our current culture with a keen eye to the future.”

The district “expressly denies any violations” of the law, according to the settlement.

Federal officials provided few details about what exactly happened at the Whitingham school, which, as of last year, served about 200 students in grades six through 12.

But investigators found that the district “knew of, and did not respond sufficiently to, individualized harassment and a broader hostile educational environment” since 2019, according to the press release. 

Federal law enforcement officials “identified instances of targeted peer harassment and pervasive documented use of derogatory epithets and comments based on students’ race, sex, sexual orientation and sex stereotypes,” officials said. “Because the school district did not sufficiently address these instances, students were deprived of equal access to the educational opportunities the district provided.”

In 2021, the Vermont chapter of the ACLU filed a complaint with the state’s Human Rights Commission alleging that Twin Valley administrators mishandled multiple incidents of racist abuse and harassment targeting a Black student. 

It’s unclear whether federal officials were investigating those same allegations.

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Peter D'Auria

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