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School Bus

A Natrona County school bus heads up David Street on Jan. 16 in central Casper. The U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights is conducting two separate investigations of the school district. 

Alan Rogers, Star-Tribune

The Natrona County School District is under two separate federal investigations, one for sexual violence and another for retaliation related to disability discrimination, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

The University of Wyoming and Northwest Community College are also facing two investigations each, both for sexual violence and retaliation, according to the department.

The investigations are being conducted by the department’s Office of Civil Rights. According to the office’s website, the district here has been under investigation for sexual violence since July 2016 and disability discrimination since Dec. 29.

Verba Echols, the district’s associate superintendent for human resources, said that she wasn’t sure when the incident related to the sexual violence investigation occurred. Citing the ongoing federal investigation, she declined to provide specific details — such as the school or the ages of those involved — but said it was not related to rape.

The Office of Civil Rights provides no details of active investigations.

She said the incident of sexual violence was fully investigated by the district and a school. Echols said district officials were later told that a complaint had been filed with the Office of Civil Rights. Officials have been cooperating with investigators since, she said.

She said the investigation went beyond the specific complaint, into the district’s protocols and guidelines. Federal investigators interviewed staff members and administrators, she said.

“We were – you’re surprised,” Echols said. “You certainly want to do the right thing, all the time, and when someone questions that, you pause and you ask, ‘How do you we get better?’”

The University of Wyoming’s sexual violence and retaliation investigations were both opened on July 6. Northwest Community College’s retaliation investigation was opened on July 26, 2017, and its sexual violence inquiry began a year earlier, on July 22, 2016.

A spokesman for the university was unable to comment Monday. A message sent to a spokesman at Northwest Community College was not returned.

All five Wyoming investigations are listed as pending.

The sexual violence and retaliation investigations are related to Title IX, which prohibits sex discrimination. The disability-related investigation falls under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, according to the website.

Echols said the disability investigation was related to a complaint from earlier this school year made by an employee about another staff member. The school’s principal contacted district officials, who became involved. A complaint was later filed to the Office of Civil Rights.

Institutions that receive federal funding are required to have a Title IX coordinator, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. Both the university and Northwest Community College list coordinators on their websites.

Echols serves as Natrona County’s Title IX coordinator, she said.

Wyoming Public Media reported in August that in addition to the Natrona County, both Laramie No. 1 and Albany County school districts were under investigation for sexual violence. Neither of those two inquiries are listed as active, but any resolution is also not listed on the site.

A spokeswoman for the Laramie County district said as its schools are on spring break, officials were unavailable to provide comment. A message sent to Albany County officials was not returned Monday.

Follow education reporter Seth Klamann on Twitter @SethKlamann

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Education and Health Reporter

Seth Klamann joined the Star-Tribune in 2016 and covers education and health. A 2015 graduate of the University of Missouri and proud Kansas City native, Seth worked for newspapers in Milwaukee and Omaha before coming to Casper.

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