LAS VEGAS, NV - The Nevada Equal Rights Commission on Friday dismissed a request from the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada for NERC to issue a declaratory order confirming that it has jurisdiction over claims of discrimination in Nevada’s public schools because state law classifies education institutions as “public accommodations.” (NERC already exercises jurisdiction over discrimination in public accommodations.)
In a Friday morning hearing in Las Vegas, NERC Chair Patty Cafferata indicated that administrators, faculty, staff, and students in Nevada’s public schools already have sufficient avenues of recourse for claims of discrimination: school districts themselves and the courts. Reminded that the ACLU of Nevada, representing a student, had reached a settlement with Washoe County School District that resulted in the district’s nondiscrimination policies and training being improved and also a settlement of about $450,000, Cafferata said such settlements were sufficient remedies for discrimination.
“It is clear that Ms. Cafferata prefers school districts to waste taxpayer money settling claims of discrimination in the courts instead of pursuing administrative relief through her commission,” said Katrina Rogers, Legal Fellow of the ACLU of Nevada.
The ACLU of Nevada’s 40-page request for a declaratory order had come to three conclusions: 1) “NERC has the jurisdiction and authority to address, remedy, and eliminate unlawful discrimination in public schools”; 2) “NERC is better suited to address, remedy, and eliminate unlawful discrimination in public schools than the Nevada Department of Education and the respective Nevada school districts”; and 3) “Nevada residents should be entitled to the same protections against discrimination in public schools as Connecticut, New Jersey, and New York.”
The ACLU of Nevada’s request for a declaratory order observed that Nevada’s Department of Education addresses very few discrimination claims and currently the department’s position in charge of such matters is vacant. The ACLU of Nevada showed that none of Nevada’s school districts currently have a nondiscrimination policy covering all protected classes (for example, not a single district’s nondiscrimination policy covers disabled employees and students), and that districts’ procedures also are inadequate.
“Every single school district in Nevada fails to offer the full protections required by state law and the demands of Due Process,” said Staci Pratt, Legal Director of the ACLU of Nevada. “NERC’s refusal to act in accordance with its mandate reveals a fundamental cowardice. The state of Nevada created NERC for the explicit purpose of providing, for all Nevadans, a forum for the elimination of unlawful discrimination. Today’s decision falls far short of that mission.”
“We are deeply disappointed by NERC’s action, or more accurately, inaction, today,” said Dane S. Claussen, Executive Director of the ACLU of Nevada. “The ACLU of Nevada will do everything in its power to assure that Nevada’s nondiscrimination laws are enforced and that claims of discrimination are sufficiently addressed and remedied.”