22 04 2008

Buist accused of discrimination

Principal says claims are unfounded

By Diette Courrégé

The Post and Courier

April 22, 2008

Charleston.net

http://www.charleston.net/news/2008/apr/22/buist_accused_discrimination38119/

A Charleston County magnet school with a sterling academic reputation is under investigation by the federal government after a sixth-grader’s parents accused the school of discriminating against their son based on his race and disability.

The Office for Civil Rights is investigating a complaint filed by John and Darla Godfrey on behalf of their son, John Godfrey II.

Buist Principal Sallie Ballard said she could not discuss specifics about the civil rights complaint because of student privacy laws. But Ballard said she did not agree with the charges made against the school. Buist does not treat students differently based on their race or disability, she said.

“We strive to do our very best for each and every child in this school, and this is regardless of their race or disability,” Ballard said.

The Godfreys said their son, John, was targeted and treated differently because he was black, and the school’s leadership didn’t want to provide the services their learning disabled son had a right to receive.

“These kids (with disabilities) are a problem to the school,” his father, John Godfrey, said. “They don’t want them there. They wish they would go away.”

At Buist, 4.8 percent of its 400 students have disabilities, and about 20 percent of its students are black. In Charleston County, 11.5 percent of students have disabilities and about half of those are black. Statewide, 14.5 percent of students have disabilities.

Ballard said the school always has worked with families and children who have special needs. Federal law requires students with disabilities to have individualized education programs, which means a team decides what extra help students need for their education. Ballard said Buist provides those required services. Ballard could not explain why the school had a lower number of students with disabilities compared with the average of state or other district schools.

John was admitted to Buist in fourth grade, and his parents said he struggled with the work because of what he hadn’t learned before enrolling in Buist. His parents were told late that school year that John had a learning disability in English/language arts that would affect his learning in every subject area.

“It’s not that he couldn’t learn; he needed extra time in that area,” said his mother, Darla Godfrey.

John’s individualized education program called for tests to be read to him, pre-test review sessions, copies of lecture notes and extra time on assignments and tests.

His parents say John didn’t get that required help, and they know that because John’s former teacher told them so.

Ballard said students’ individualized education programs are followed.

Ballard asked John to leave Buist after his fifth-grade year because his grades were below the school’s required 85 average. The Godfreys appealed. The constituent school board unanimously agreed this school year that John should be able to go back to Buist because his individual education program had not been “properly fulfilled,” according to the minutes of the board’s meeting. Ballard didn’t appeal the board’s decision.

Downtown constituent school board member Pam Kusmider said that although the Godfreys gave her permission to talk about the case, she couldn’t discuss it. This also is a personnel issue because of the accusations against Ballard, she said.

John’s parents said they want to see a commitment from the district’s leadership that the climate of the school will change to embrace students with disabilities, and his mother wants Ballard removed from the school.

“I would like to make sure that this doesn’t happen to another child, and all of it would have been worthwhile,” the elder John Godfrey said.

This is the second ongoing investigation involving Buist Academy by the civil rights office. A complaint filed last year by a downtown constituent school board member alleges the school district racially discriminated against Charleston Progressive Academy, a magnet school with a predominantly black student body, in allocating fewer resources to it than to Buist.

If the investigations find the district violated civil rights statutes and the district refuses to comply with the law, federal money could be in jeopardy.

Reach Diette Courrégé at 937-5546 or dcourrege@post andcourier.com.

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