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U.S. Department of Education opens civil rights investigation into Southlake Carroll ISD

The Office of Civil Rights confirmed that it has opened three separate investigations into the district.

SOUTHLAKE, Texas — The U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights has opened three investigations into Southlake's Carroll Independent School District following allegations of racial discrimination.

The Office of Civils Rights told WFAA that it has opened three separate investigations into the district "related to discrimination based on race, color, national origin, or sex."

It was unclear which allegations the federal officials are investigating. Carroll ISD released the following statement to WFAA Wednesday:

"Our district is fully cooperating with this process and diligently pulling all documents requested. These OCRs are student situations; therefore, due to the Federal Act to Education Privacy Act (FERPA), we are unable to provide or share any more specifics at this time. Our focus will always be what is best for our students as we prepare them for their next steps in their educational journey."

Robin Cornish experienced racism in Carroll ISD as a parent of five alums.

“It was a challenging, challenging experience," Cornish said. “My son got into an argument with a kid and was told, 'how do you get a Black out of a tree, you cut the rope'.”

Raven Rolle faced racism as a student, graduating in 2019. Her brother still attends Carroll ISD. 

“The use of the 'N word' is very common in hallways," she said. “It’s really defeating and exhausting of going through this cycle of trying to do something good and it just gets worse.”

Neither Rolle nor Cornish was surprised by the investigation. 

“It’s kind of like a relief because it’s been so tough for me and so many other students going to Carroll," Rolle said. 

“It’s sad, but honestly I was ecstatic because I feel like finally we’re being heard," Cornish said. 

Southlake has drawn a national spotlight in recent months, in particular over the debate of critical race theory, despite professors and school districts across the state saying it's not taught in K-12 schools.

In October, a report from NBC News said a district leader asked teachers to offer students books with an "opposing perspective" of the Holocaust.

Carroll’s headlines started years ago, though, after two separate videos of students chanting a racial slur went viral.

Parents and leaders created a diversity and inclusion plan called the Cultural Competency Action Plan or CCAP, which is now stalled by a lawsuit. The last three elected board members ran on a platform of stopping that plan.

“The code of conduct isn’t working," Cornish said. "It hasn’t been working. Putting in a few things here and there, Band-Aids as I call them, are not going to fix the issue.”

Attorney Andrew Wirmani, a former federal prosecutor, said the investigation could take months to finish. 

"They'll interview relevant witnesses, gather documents, look at their policies and procedures, and then ultimately make a determination of whether they think there was a violation of the law involved," he said.

Current and former students have shared hundreds of accounts of racism and bullying in the district in support of the CCAP. It's unknown how many of those were submitted to the Department of Education. Just a small fraction of complaints to the DOE eventually become investigations like the three launched last week. 

"They will try to get the school district in this situation to agree to some remedy. It could be changes in their policies and procedures. It could be some other sort of remedial action to address whatever the violation was, and then they'll be monitored for a certain period of time," Wirmani said. "If there's a finding of some wrongdoing and the school district was unwilling to rectify that, there is a chance that federal funding could be cut off, and there's also in situations where it can be referred to the Department of Justice."

“If you’re having problems at the level that we are then you don’t need a lose guide. You need something very clear and serious," Rolle said. “I just hope that the school board and Dr. Ledbetter will not just listen to us but start hearing people.”

Superintendent Lane Ledbetter, in response to the Holocaust comments that made headlines, said in a statement that the district continues to "work through implementation of HB3979" and that "we also understand this bill does not require an opposing viewpoint on historical facts."

In a Facebook video last week, Ledbetter made a call for the community to come together. 

"My job is to take care of kids," he said. "My job is to take care of our staff. And to ensure that we’re providing a world class education in a safe environment for our kids and our staff."