Mom questions school fairness

When a student successfully appealed and got back into a Richmond County magnet school, Acquanetta Riley asked why her daughter wasn't given the same opportunity.

"It's clearly not fair for everyone," she said.

Mrs. Riley's daughter, who had attended C.T. Walker Traditional Magnet School for seven years, brought a knife to school in February.

But she was told her daughter wouldn't be allowed to return to C.T. Walker, and it couldn't be appealed or challenged.

She didn't question it because magnet schools are run differently, Mrs. Riley said. Attending them is a privilege.

"Then come to find out a child had done the same thing and even worse and was allowed to come back," she said. "Where's the fairness in the system?"

Mrs. Riley was referring to a June 16 story in The Augusta Chronicle in which a John S. Davidson Fine Arts Magnet School student successfully appealed after pleading guilty in a tribunal hearing to possessing marijuana and a weapon on school grounds. Although she withdrew from school and was sent to an alternative school, she will return to Davidson next school year. Her name was not released by the school system.

Mrs. Riley wants to know why her daughter wasn't afforded the same opportunity. She mailed and hand-delivered letters to interim Superintendent James Thompson and several Richmond County school board members for clarification but never heard back.

The answer she would have received would have depended on whom she asked.

According to Pat Burau, who oversees the magnet program as assistant superintendent for school improvement and program development, magnet school students sign contracts that state they can't return once they leave.

Exceptions have been made for hardships, but "in the past" no one has appealed this, she said in an e-mail.

But school board member Helen Minchew said magnet school students shouldn't be singled out for different treatment.

"I think everyone should have the right of appeal no matter where you go to school," she said.

The school board needs to hear from its attorney about whether the contracts trump board decisions, Mrs. Minchew said, wanting to get clarification so the rules can be consistently applied.

Mrs. Riley said she and her husband are looking at a private school for their daughter at least until they move out of the county.

"I just want my child to get the same opportunities as every child," she said.

Reach Greg Gelpi at (706) 828-3851 or greg.gelpi@augustachronicle.com.