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Manchester schools settle discrimination suit

New Hampshire Union Leader

April 18. 2017 11:30PM

MANCHESTER — The Manchester School District has agreed to pay the family of a former Manchester High School Central student $150,000 to settle a federal lawsuit against the district, a former superintendent and several school board members.

According to court documents, Ayei Akot, now 18, was suspended for 10 days for allegedly assaulting a student in March 2014, while he was an eighth-grader at Hillside Middle School. Then-superintendent Debra Livingston extended the suspension and scheduled an expulsion hearing.

At the April 2014 hearing, current school board members Art Beaudry of Ward 9 and Debra Gagnon Langton of Ward 2 and former school board member Robyn Dunphy voted to expel Akot from school for three years.

In May 2014, Akot’s father, Khamis Akot, filed a complaint with the federal Office of Civil Rights claiming that although the district was aware the family immigrated to the U.S. from Sudan in 2001 and did not speak English, both student conduct hearings were conducted in English, and all notices provided to the family were written in English.

The district was informed by an official with the regional Office of Civil Rights in Boston that it was being investigated for violating Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, prohibiting discrimination based on “race, color or national origin.”

Under the terms of the agreement the district reached with the Office of Civil Rights in November 2014, Akot was set to return to Manchester High School Central and the record relating to his suspension and expulsion was to be expunged.

According to court documents, the family said after they complained to the Office of Civil Rights, “the Manchester School District and members of its Board of School Committee repeatedly discriminated against the plaintiffs and took a number of retaliatory actions against them.”

The lawsuit lists the most “egregious” of these actions as disclosing confidential student information to the public and members of the media in violation of state and federal law.

“Ultimately, the minor student’s name, photograph and information contained in his confidential school records were repeatedly broadcast on the radio and local television show over a series of months,” the complaint states. “This prevented him from being able to participate in the educational programs provided by the school district.”

Attorney Karen E. Hewes of EdLaw New England, PLLC in Manchester filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court last November accusing officials of denying Akot his “constitutional and statutory rights” to equal access to public education.

Members of the Akot family and school district officials issued a joint statement Tuesday.

“Although the parties have different reasons for entering the settlement, both sides are pleased that the matter has been resolved and that everyone involved can put the matter behind them and move forward. The Manchester School District reiterates its commitment to the privacy rights of students and staff and does not intend to speak further about this.”

Hewes said in an email: “My clients stand behind the allegations made in the complaint, but do not wish to make further comment.” The family gave permission to release the student’s name because he is now 18.

A copy of the settlement agreement was obtained by the Union Leader through a Right-to-Know request.

The agreement can be viewed below:

Courts Education Manchester