Originally created 04/24/04

Mother complains about school's handling of fight



An Augusta mother complained this week that school officials are refusing to punish her son's classmate for an alleged assault that sent her child to the hospital with a swollen head and hairline fractures.

Trina Cunningham said her son Devin, a fifth-grader at Copeland Elementary School, was sweeping the classroom at the teacher's request last month when a classmate began a shoving match and body-slammed her son.

The teacher was outside the room at the time, she said.

Ms. Cunningham said Principal Anita Evans not only let the classmate return to school without punishment but also retaliated against Devin because his mother complained. Dr. Evans suspended Devin for violating the dress code because he wore his shirttail out, the first time the honor-roll pupil was disciplined this year, the mother said.

District spokeswoman Mechelle Jordan said the suspension came after the boy was verbally reprimanded several times. She confirmed that Dr. Evans allowed the classmate to return to school, saying the incident was determined to be "horseplay."

"She did not write up the students. She counseled the two, talked with several other students and determined that no intent was involved. The two students had seemingly settled amongst themselves," Mrs. Jordan said.

According to the district's Code of Student Conduct and Discipline, pupils can be suspended for bullying or causing bodily injury to another person. Ms. Cunningham said her son had been bullied by the classmate all year, and the assault was the climax.

"It was not horseplay," she said. "Devin was picked up and thrown."

After the incident, a nurse evaluated Devin until Ms. Cunningham arrived. She took Devin to Medical College of Georgia Hospital, where he spent six hours undergoing tests.

Ms. Cunningham met with Superintendent Charles Larke this week, asking him to drop the suspension from her son's record because it was retaliatory. He declined.

School officials say Ms. Cunningham's reaction has been inappropriate.

"On several occasions during our investigation, Ms. Cunningham has complained that her son is now being singled out and picked on by Dr. Evans and the staff," Mrs. Jordan said. "There is no evidence to support such an allegation. However, Ms. Cunningham has referred to Dr. Evans in unkind terms while speaking with one of our investigators on the phone."

The spokeswoman said the district is allowing the parents of both boys to settle the medical bills between themselves.

Reach Greg Rickabaugh at (706) 828-3851 or greg.rickabaugh@augustachronicle.com.