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School To Settle Discrimination Lawsuit

Springdale District Doesn’t Admit Wrongdoing by Steve Caraway | July 24, 2012 at 8:46 p.m.

— A federal lawsuit over racial discrimination against the Springdale School District should soon be dropped.

At A Glance

Racial Makeup of Springdale

Springdale’s school district includes all of Springdale as well as several smaller towns and unincorporated areas. Percentages of racial and ethnic backgrounds in Springdale:

  • White: 65 percent
  • Hispanic: 35 percent*
  • Other or two or more races: 25 percent
  • Pacific Islanders: 6 percent
  • Native American: 2 percent
  • Asian: 1 percent
  • Black: 0.8 percent

*Those of Hispanic backgrounds can be split between several races

Source: U.S 2010 Census

The district’s School Board approved a settlement offer Tuesday of a lawsuit filed by Kent Bowman, a former teacher at Har-Ber High School. The settlement included paying Bowman $105,000.

The district is responsible for only a deductible payment of $10,000, which it has already paid, said Charles Harwell, district attorney. The district’s insurance company will pay the remainder. The district’s deductible payment covered legal costs, he said.

The suit alleged Bowman, who is black, was subjected to discrimination, a hostile environment and retaliation while he was a teacher at the school from 2006 to 2010. The lawsuit named Springdale Schools and also Jim Rollins, superintendent, Hartzell Jones, deputy superintendent, and Danny Brackett, Har-Ber principal.

The lawsuit was scheduled for trial Sept. 17 in front of U.S. District Judge Jimm Hendren, said Harwell. A settlement meeting Monday, lasting from 9 a.m. until 7 p.m., resulted in the settlement offer, he said.

Harwell recommended accepting the offer to the board.

“Damages and attorney fees can mount up,” Harwell said. “The insurance carrier pointed out the potential risk if the case went forward to a jury trial. They pushed for settlement.”

Rollins also recommended approving the settlement.

The terms included the $105,000 payment, no admission of fault, a positive letter of reference for Bowman from the district, beefing up the school policy on racial non-harassment, diversity training for supervisors for assistant principals and above and no further public comments from Bowman or his attorneys, Harwell said.

Bowman did send a letter to the school through Harwell, complimenting the district on its willingness to entertain and create new strategies to avoid future misunderstandings. It said Springdale had some of the most genuine and sincere people in the country.

“The (school) leaders are very forward thinking and they have created an environment that will give every student the tools to go for their dreams,” the letter stated.

The board voted to give Rollins authority to sign the settlement, with the help of Harwell. The policy change should be completed as soon as school rules allow, Harwell said, probably by this fall. The suggested time to have training completed is one year, he said.

The lawsuit stated Bowman was the only black teacher in the school when he left. Springdale will have 12 to 14 black teachers this fall, Rollins said, scattered around the district. He didn’t know how many were at Har-Ber, he said.

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