- Last Updated on Wednesday, 02 December 2009 18:37
- Published on Wednesday, 02 December 2009 18:37
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The parents of a King George Middle School student are questioning the legal validity of a written response from the School Board to their two third-party complaints filed on Sept. 23.
They think more is required of the School Board under state law.
The two-sentence written response from School Board Chairman Sherrie Allwine on Nov. 17 said, “I am writing in response to the Third Party Complaints that you submitted on Sept. 27, 2009 against Dr. Candace Brown and Ms. Seidah Ashshaheed. Please know that the School Board completed an investigation of the Third Party Complaints and has determined there is no basis for further action.”
Due to privacy issues, we are not publishing the names of the parents, student, or teacher involved in the alleged incident.
But the School Board publicly revealed at meetings on Oct. 1 and Oct.14 that Ashshaheed was the subject of one of the pair of third-party complaints by its wording of motions for closed session discussions at those meetings.
That would also indicate it’s a middle school teacher who is alleged to have assaulted a seventh- or eighth-grader last spring.
SCHOOL BOARD INVESTIGATION
The School Board’s investigation is presumed to have been done by talking amongst themselves and to Brown and Ashshaheed in closed sessions. Ashshaheed was included in the closed meeting session on Oct. 14.
The School Board has not interviewed the child who is the subject of the alleged assault by a teacher.
It has not interviewed a student-witness, whose name and parent permission had been supplied to Ashshaheed back in April.
The School Board has not interviewed the teacher against whom the allegation of assault was made.
Nor has the School Board interviewed the sibling of the student allegedly assaulted.
The parents had two children at the middle school last school year.
The student was allegedly assaulted by the teacher of the sibling. Within a week after the incident, the sibling was removed from that teacher’s class and reassigned to another teacher.
Prior to Allwine’s Nov. 17 response, there appear to have been two issues that needed some attention from the School Board, both stemming from the assault allegation.
Now there could be a third issue.
The first issue is that no investigation was done to look into the incident that took place on April 1 to determine if the allegation of assault is founded. If there had been an investigation, there would be a written response to the parents who brought it to the attention of the school administration.
The second issue is the subject of the third-party complaints, on whether Brown followed up with an investigation of the incident once she was apprised of it in mid-June. She didn’t, or she would have responded to the parents if she had looked into it.
The Nov. 17 response from Allwine speaks for itself on that issue.
That Allwine has claimed the School Board has “completed an investigation” without interviewing at least three key people could become issue No. 3.
If the parents decide to appeal the School Board’s decision, which was made during a closed session without any action being taken in an open meeting, they would likely do so under the same VA Code section under which the School Board was sued in April 2008.
That law provides for judicial review of actions by a school board and calls for the action to be sustained “unless the school board exceeded its authority, acted arbitrarily or capriciously, or abused its discretion.”
The parents this week provided a response back to Allwine and the other members of the School Board, saying, “The issues presented to the school board against Ms. Ashshaheed and Dr. Brown are very serious and under division policy and state law require further action. Per your response, the school board is now, itself, in violation of numerous policy and VA Code violations, including but not limited to; School Board policy KL, JHG, JGA and GBLA. In addition, the school board is also in violation of the following VA Codes, but not limited to; §22.1-279.1, §22.1-279.3:1, §22.1-291.3, §63.2-1509, and §63.2-1511.”
The parents’ letter also said, in part, “Again, the seriousness of these complaints must be addressed and not be handled in a manner to close ranks and protect the School Board employees. Once the evidence of assault was handed to the School Board, it then became the School Board’s duty to comply to the laws surrounding the allegation. The school board has never complied by notifying the proper agency to investigate. This also places each and every board member in a very serious violation of §63.2-1509…”
That section of VA Code cited includes a penalty for failure to report by those required to do so, which includes personnel employed in public schools. It states in part, “Any person required to file a report pursuant to this section who fails to do so within 72 hours of his first suspicion of child abuse or neglect shall be fined not more than $500 for the first failure and for any subsequent failures not less than $100 nor more than $1,000.”
The parents’ letter goes on to say, “If the school board itself does not comply to their own policy nor state laws, what kind of example is that for your employees and students? At this point, I would recommend that the board reinvestigates these issues in accordance to your own policies and state laws. I expect to hear back from you within seven days. During that time, I will be exploring which options to pursue, including all charges applicable, petition the circuit court on the board’s actions, file any civil actions needed, make the audio of the meeting public for all to hear and file grievances with all applicable agencies. I cannot sit back and allow this to be covered up and risk the possibility of this happening to other children. It needs to be dealt with and the board needs to comply with its statutory responsibilities. That is what you were elected to do.”
As reported in September, the third-party complaints allege that both Ashshaheed and then Brown failed to investigate an allegation of a physical assault against a student by a teacher, during an incident that occurred in April.
The parents supplied photos of bruises on their student’s arm and repeatedly asked for an investigation following the April 1 incident during various phone calls, e-mails and letters, including letters on April 14, April 21, May 15 and May 28.
In a letter of May 28, the parents stated to Ashshaheed, “Enough is enough; we have tried very hard to resolve the assault incident on our son with you and you have done nothing more than ignore us.”
The parents’ letter went on to remind Ashshaheed she still had not spoken with her son or a named student-witness regarding the incident, adding, “We don’t know what else to do to get you to do your job. At this point, if we do not hear back from you with in the next week, we will have no other alternative but to take this farther and notify Dr. Brown as to what has been going on at the middle school.”
INVESTIGATION OF ALLEGED
After getting nowhere with the middle school administration, the parents sent a letter to Superintendent Brown in mid-June to attempt to get her to provide some resolution to their complaint.
State law also requires that public school teachers and others who suspect cases of child abuse or neglect, which would include assault on a child by a teacher, be reported to Social Services “or the person in charge of the relevant school or his designee.”
In addition, the School Board’s own policy KL - Public Complaints, states, “A complaint involving a particular school shall be handled within the school through the established channel of responsibility. If the complaint cannot be resolved at the level of the principal, it shall be referred to the superintendent or his/her designee. If the central office staff and complainant cannot reach a satisfactory solution, the matter may, at the School Board's discretion, be heard at a regular Board meeting.”
On June 15, the parents brought Brown into the picture, saying in part in their letter, “We are talking about a teacher physically harming a child and a principal who refuses to do anything about it. As parents, we are extremely fed up and expect something to finally be done about it. We have enclosed copies of the previous communications to Mrs. Ashshaheed for your viewing. Please contact us as soon as possible so that we can put this behind us with a plausible resolution.”
One such plausible resolution could be for division officials to first have spoken to all concerned and then have come to the conclusion that the alleged use of force was deemed “of incidental, minor or reasonable physical contact or other actions designed to maintain order and control,” which is allowed under state laws prohibiting corporal punishment in public schools.
But that didn’t happen.
The parents got no resolution to their complaint from Brown. Summer came and went with a few e-mails to Brown in July and some calls starting up again in August.
Still, the parents received no response to indicate that the incident had been looked into. We know that because one of the parents and her child met with Brown, Ashshaheed and the teacher on Sept. 24.
TAPE GIVES CREDENCE
TO LACK OF INVESTIGATION
The parent openly taped that meeting and later supplied a copy of it to the School Board. The Journal was also provided a copy of the tape.
The principal and teacher were excluded from the meeting midway through, while Brown questioned the student.
If the parents choose to go forward to appeal lack of due process, there is taped evidence of Brown’s knowledge of the assault allegation and of her telling the parent she would investigate the incident, along with Allwine’s written claim of a completed investigation.
There were two cases alleging violations of due process last year against Brown and the School Board that landed them in Circuit Court and resulted in costing the division legal fees and settlement costs adding up to $37,091.64.