updated 7/17/2007 6:10:37 PM ET 2007-07-17T22:10:37

School leaders in a southern New Mexico district will not face federal sanctions for allowing a high school project on racism in which students posted signs reading "Whites Only" and "People of Color" above water faucets, federal officials said.

But the Truth or Consequences school district will have to implement procedures for addressing racial harassment claims and offer lessons about racial harassment to students and staff, the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights said.

Students at Hot Springs High School launched the project last year for an English class focusing on social justice. The students hoped to secretly monitor the reactions of people when they viewed the signs. Other students tore down the signs within minutes.

Student Gabriel Reynolds, who is black, said the signs shocked and angered him. He complained that he was humiliated, and his family filed complaints with both the federal and state education departments.

School officials described the project as an attempt to explore the nation's history of racism. The school, about 150 miles south of Albuquerque, had 426 students at the time, only seven of them black.

The district and the Office of Civil Rights signed a resolution agreement earlier this month that requires the district to develop and implement the new rules. The federal office found no violations of law, however, and said the educators would not be sanctioned.

Truth or Consequences Superintendent James Nesbitt said the district agreed with the federal agency that it needs a clear procedure for reporting problems.

"The development of a reporting plan is in keeping with the purpose of the student project that resulted in the Reynolds' complaints, which was to address the issue of racial harassment with students," he said.

Construed as discrimination
Nesbitt and other educators reached a settlement with state officials in March. The state settlement said the student-initiated project created at least the appearance of discrimination and should not have been approved.

At the time, Nesbitt said he and others made a mistake in judgment.

Nesbitt and the Hot Springs principal sent Reynolds' family an apology and publicly apologized. However, Susan Reynolds, the student's mother, said she didn't consider the apology sincere because the educators never acknowledged the project was inappropriate.

The educators agreed to take racial sensitivity training and had letters of reprimand placed in their files for 18 months.

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