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May 21, 2008
2nd lawsuit filed against School Board, Superintendent
Both legal complaints allege violations of due process in student discipline cases
KING GEORGE, Virginia (STPNS) -- A second complaint in four days was filed last week in the King George Circuit Court against the King George School Board and Superintendent Dr. Candace Brown.
Like the Davis legal complaint filed on Monday, May 12, the second one filed Thursday, May 15 also alleges violations of ?procedural due process? as afforded by the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
The second petition was filed by parent Januari Rhodes on behalf of her minor son, a student at King George High School. The Rhodes complaint is based on a separate discipline incident, which is unrelated to the Davis incident.
Since the student is a minor, this paper is not providing the student?s name or details about the alleged Code of Conduct violation.
The complaint states that the student was suspended from school for 10 days by King George High School Assistant Principal Holly Wargo on April 3 for an alleged violation of the Code of Conduct while on school property.
In addition to alleging numerous due process violations leading up to and during a hearing before a Discipline Committee hearing on April 14 as in the Davis complaint, Rhodes additionally questions at least one element of the Discipline Committee?s unanimous decision, which included a subsequent required meeting with a division Readmission Committee.
The Rhodes complaint states, ?Plaintiff?s family has been unable to verify the existence of said committee, the persons who chair said committee and governing documents (rules/regulations) of said committee.?
The Rhodes filing contains 10 exhibits to illustrate her allegations.
Exhibit #1 is a full page statement signed by the student and Wargo and said to be typed by Wargo shortly after the incident.
Rhodes alleges this typed statement replaced her son?s own handwritten two sentence statement, which is ?not available.? Rhodes states in her filing, ?But Plaintiff?s statement was ?expanded? upon by Ms. Wargo by ?asking clarifying questions? as ?She typed the statement as (the student) gave answers.?
The Rhodes filing contains several allegations of due process violations in common with the Davis filing.
Exhibit #4 is a letter from Superintendent Brown dated April 8 stating she was ?scheduling a hearing before the King George County Discipline Committee? to consider if the student?s ?behavior violated the Code of Conduct and warrants further disciplinary action or corrective requirements.?
As with a similar letter to Davis, the letter to Rhodes on that date referenced a Discipline Committee that was not in existence at the time.
That?s because policies establishing it and its procedures were not approved by the School Board until the next day, at a meeting on April 9.
o PROCEDURAL VIOLATIONS ALLEGED The complaint alleges numerous other violations of due process, including the following:
~ The School Board and Brown failed to provide the Plaintiff with notice of its proposed action as required by state law and also failed to include required notification that the hearing could result in suspension until the end of the school year or expulsion.
~ The School Board failed to provide information regarding the availability of community-based educational programs, alternative education programs, alternative educational plans or interventional programs, as required by state law.
~ At the time of the infraction, the School Board did not have a disciplinary committee. The written policy provides that decisions regarding a student?s suspension or expulsion are made by a unanimous vote of the School Board.
~ By failing to notify the Plaintiff of the possible disciplinary measures that would result from the April 14, 2008, hearing, as required by state law, the School Board and Brown unfairly prejudiced the Plaintiff?s ability to prepare for the hearing, violating his rights of due process.
~ By failing to notify the Plaintiff of its adoption of a three-person disciplinary committee two days before its hearing, the School Board and Brown violated its own policies and procedures resulting in further serious violations to Plaintiff?s rights to a fair hearing.
~ The Discipline Committee before which the Plaintiff was instructed to appear did not exist until five days before the hearing. The composition of the committee was not formally approved, and its responsibilities were not finalized at the time of the hearing on the public record (no minutes from the School Board Meeting that a Disciplinary Committee was formed.) This resulted in Plaintiff?s inability to prepare for the hearing on the charges against him, as Defendants policies and procedures were unavailable. Plaintiff?s Mother learned of the formation on Wednesday April 16, 2008 front page of the King George Journal (newspaper) two days after Plaintiff?s hearing.
~ School Board policies define expulsion as 365 days. The student was merely suspended. Since it was a suspension hearing, the procedures in School Board policies to be followed were those in Paragraph IV of the School Board?s policies for a hearing before the School Board, and not a discipline committee under Paragraph V3, which is for expulsion hearings.
Other background information provided in the complaint alleges:
~ The hearing was based on summary evidence from Principal Todd Satterwhite.
~ The complaint states, ?The three individuals on the Discipline Committee are to be impartial in the matter. The Plaintiff and their family are not allowed to ask questions of this committee. Plaintiff?s family clearly heard Mr. Dick Roberts ask Ms. Ann Cocke, Mr. Joseph Nealon and he to state if there was any reason that they could not sit on this board. All replied there was not. Yet, Plaintiff?s Mother had in fact approximately three or four years ago had a police report written regarding one of the board member?s spouse. While Plaintiff?s family did not press charges against this individual, as we gave the person the benefit of the doubt that he/she was having a bad day, was truly sorry for his/her actions, and apologized to Plaintiff for his/her actions, the Plaintiff?s family finds it difficult to believe that the individual could be impartial.?
o RELIEF REQUESTED The Plaintiff is requesting reversal of the decision, an injunction limiting suspension to the time already spent on suspension, reinstatement into the student body of the King George High School and reinstatement of school privileges.
Also being requested is the opportunity to complete his school work for the spring semester and take the necessary SOLs.
In addition, Plaintiff is also requesting deletion from his records of all evidence of the suspension and a declaratory ruling that the School Board?s and Brown?s actions deprived the student of his right to a free public education without due process of law, and an award of the Plaintiff?s attorney?s fees and costs and court costs.
?Our child?s education is paramount. He was offered no services to finish out the school year. It just didn?t appear that the Discipline Committee or School Board had given any consideration to that,? Januari Rhodes told The Journal.
?With as many issues as there are with the Disciplinary Committee and things where I have found huge discrepancies, I felt I did what I had to do. They left me no choice since there was no other way to appeal, since their policy does not provide that possibility.?
She added, ?They didn?t even tell me they had formed this committee. After I found out by reading in the paper that they had just approved this Discipline Committee, I asked (School Board member) Payne Kilbourn twice if I could meet before the School Board, and got no response. I told him before the last meeting, ?I guess I have no choice but to make a private matter public?.?
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