Originally created 08/19/00

Expulsion prompts lawsuit



The mother of a 16-year-old Burke County High School student is suing the school district for expelling her son after an incident she says is related to his being a special education student.

The lawsuit - filed under the name "Dianne D." - states her son was suspended from the high school for 10 days in December for allegedly pushing a teacher and later wasexpelledwhen school officials ruled that his disorder did not cause his actions.

A hearing regarding the case will take place Monday at 11 a.m. in U.S. District Court.

Sheryl Hudson, attorney for the woman, said because of his expulsion, the boy cannot apply to another school district in the state. She said he should not be penalized for behaviors he cannot help.

"The behavior that resulted in the disciplinary action is related to his disability," Ms. Hudson said. "He has several disabilities - Attention Deficit Disorder, mild mental retardation, chronic depression and some emotional problems - and he takes medications as a result of the multiple disabilities.

"We want the school to put him in his special education placement and not penalize him for conduct related to his disability that does not present a substantial risk or harm to staff or other students," she said.

Doug Day, superintendent for Burke County schools, referred calls to the district's attorney, James Hyder.

Mr. Hyder said he doesn't comment on matters that are in litigation.

"We're aware that there's been a lawsuit filed, and we disagree with it and intend to defend it," he said. "They don't understand the law, and they are operating off a misunderstanding of the law and probably the facts, too."

According to the lawsuit, the incident took place Dec. 2 when a teacher removed the boy from the lunchroom because he was creating a disturbance.

The teacher took him to her room and sat with him while he ate his lunch, but he allegedly berated her as he ate. When the lunch period was over, the teacher attempted to hand the boy a disciplinary slip to sign, but he instead allegedly grabbed her arm, causing her to lose balance and fall over some desks.

The teacher was not injured, according to the lawsuit, but the boy was charged with simple battery. The charge was handled during a student tribunal hearing, which recommended permanent expulsion.

The boy's mother appealed the decision before the state Board of Education. That board ruled June 29 that the local board had the authority to expel the student.

The Dec. 2 incident was not the boy's first time being disciplined. In September, he was suspended from school several times for behavior problems with his teachers and peers.

"He had had some fairly minor problems with aggressive behavior, but there was a behavioral intervention plan in place that would have directed the teacher to take specific action in the event of this type of conduct," Ms. Hudson said, adding that the boy has the attention span and abilities of a second-grader. "The school actually did have a behavioral management plan that required instructor to send him to the office for `time-out,' and he would be required to return to class after he calmed down," she said.

"I'm certainly not saying that it's not appropriate for kids who pose an eminent threat of danger to be disciplined," Ms. Hudson said. "But in this instance, I believe the conduct complained of is very far from Columbine; it's very far from the situation where the teacher (Linda Gail Hendrick) was stabbed (in Richmond County) with the scissors. I think this was an overreaction to a situation that was mishandled by the instructor."

Reach Faith Johnson at (706) 823-3765 orfaithj@augustachronicle.com.