Federal education officials are investigating a pair of complaints filed by the mother of two students in the Hartland Consolidated Schools district.
The first complaint alleges her son was discriminated against based on his disability and accuses school board members of creating a “hostile environment” by their public comments. The second alleges her daughter was sexually harassed and also discriminated against because of a disability.
The mother and her children are not being identified to protect their privacy.
The first of the complaints, both of which were filed March 27th with the U.S. Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights (OCR), involves a middle school student who was suspended by the district in January after making a statement during class that other students shouldn’t come to school the following Tuesday. Several classmates reported the comment to school administrators who then removed the student from the classroom and called the Livingston County Sheriff’s Office to investigate.
After talking with the student and visiting his home, the determination was made by deputies that he was not a threat. That information was then relayed the following day in a letter to parents.
“Our number one goal as an administration is to provide a safe and secure environment for our staff and students,” stated the letter. “The district, in conjunction with the Livingston County Sheriff’s Office, has determined the matter does not present a danger to the school.”
The district, however, later determined it would be best for the student to complete the school year at home utilizing online classes.
The complaint states that the allegations being investigated include that the district excluded the student “from receiving in-person education with peers, developed an Individualized Education Program (IEP) in April 2023,” for which the placement and services were not based on the individualized needs as a student with a disability or on evaluation data, “and did not fully implement the services that were included in the IEP.”
However, when an expulsion hearing was set for the student, his mother says she had to stand up for her child who has been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder and ADHD, one of the consequences of which is a lack of impulse control and an inability at times to properly read social cues.
“My mama bear came out and I was like, ‘This is unacceptable,’ she told GIGO News. “My child has a disability and he’s being ostracized and we’re trying to help him and we’re doing our best in the home. This is a complete disservice to him and his education.”
The OCR also said it would examine the allegation that “District board members created a hostile environment” for the student “and other students with disability-related behavior issues by making derogatory statements and threats targeting such students in public District meetings) and statements to media outlets.”
It’s believed that the “derogatory statements” referred to in the complaint were made by school board members, including those by Glenn Gogoleski and Greg Keller on a local podcast in February.
“What I want to do is spend a little bit of time just sitting in the offices,” said Gogoleski during the podcast. “I will tell you, because my wife works in one of the schools. There is so much that goes on that doesn’t get reported, doesn’t get watched. I want to see that. Absolutely. I want to see the kids that are the problems. I want to see the kids that come into the office and swear and throw things. Right now when a kid has a meltdown in the class they evacuate the rest of the class…”
At that point, the podcast host interrupted to say, “and allow fu – – tard to sit.”
Glenn then continued, “…so that a child can be talked down from his little meltdown…They need three administrators to be there to secure the child to bring him down to the office. And when I say secure I’m not talking about grabbing them by the scruff of the neck. I’m talking about talking to him, getting and coaxing down to the office. Its sickening! This is why I could never ever be a teacher because if I was, I would be a news highlight reel.”
Both Gogoleski and Keller were later censured by the board for their comments on the podcast as well as their lack of repudiation of the host’s characterization of students thought to have special needs.
The second complaint concerns the parent’s middle school daughter, who no longer attends the district.
It alleges the District discriminated against her daughter based on disability and sex when, during the 2022-2023 school year, “the District failed to respond consistent with the requirements of Section 504 and Title IX after the Student was harassed by other students, including repeatedly being called “dumb, stupid, slow” and “gay.”
The mother, who is in a same-sex marriage, says at first classmates teased her daughter for being in special education classes, calling her “stupid” and “slow,” and that shortly after the incident involving her son, two of her daughter’s friends decided to stop socializing with her. She says she then began noticing that her daughter’s lunch was coming home uneaten and she would have excuses as to why.
“Within a couple days she received a lunch detention for skipping lunch and going to math,” said the mother. “I reached out to the principal and counselor to let them know about the ongoing bullying she was dealing with- still thinking it was the “stupid” and “slow” comments.”
But the mother says that one day shortly after returning from school her daughter passed out and they took her to the ER where she learned that her daughter wasn’t eating or drinking at all in school, avoiding eating in the cafeteria and using the bathroom.
After about a week she finally learned that her daughter’s refusal to eat lunch with classmates was because kids in her class found out she has “three moms,” referring to herself and her wife and the father’s wife.
“First she had to convince them that her moms were gay, rather than her dad having three wives (apparently that is easier to believe??), then everything she did was “gay” because since we are gay, she must be too,” the mother told GIGO News.
The mother says as a result of the persistent teasing and harassment, her daughter ended up eating her lunch alone in the special education teacher’s classroom and later chose to sit out of the spring lock-in, end of year field trip and last day of school as she didn’t want to either sit by herself or get picked on.
In the complaint concerning her daughter, OCR said it will investigate several issues “to determine whether the District discriminated against your daughter based on disability and sex.”
They include “whether a student was subjected to harassing conduct on the basis of disability in the District’s program and, if so, whether the District failed to investigate promptly and to respond appropriately…whether the District failed to provide a qualified student with a disability with a free appropriate public education (and) “whether the District had actual knowledge of sexual harassment in an education program or activity of the District and responded promptly in a manner that was not deliberately indifferent,” as required by Title IX.
In letters dated August 16th and August 30th, the OCR confirmed it was opening the complaints up for investigation, adding that it would serve as a neutral fact-finder.
“OCR will collect and analyze relevant evidence from the complainant, the recipient, and other sources, as appropriate,” stated the letter. “OCR will ensure that the actions it takes in investigations are legally sufficient, and that its determinations are support(ed) by the evidence.”
At the conclusion of its investigation, OCR said it will determine whether each allegation has sufficient evidence to support a conclusion that the district failed to comply with the law.
When asked to comment on the complaints, Hartland Superintendent Chuck Hughes told GIGO News that as the process was in the early stages the district would choose not to comment at this time.
As for the mother who filed the complaints, she says that because of the targeting of her son at board meetings and online by other parents who are only focused on the January 11th incident and do not know her child and his disabilities, and the harassment her daughter received, she and her wife have decided to move out of Livingston County for their own safety, adding that being an LGBTQ+ family in an “obviously hostile” environment has only made that decision more imperative.