Education Department Steps In After School Retaliated Against Mom
HAMPTON, Va. — The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights said this month that it determined Hampton City Schools retaliated against a parent who was advocating for her daughter, who was receiving special education services at a school in the division.
According to OCR’s findings, the division contacted the parent’s employer — a contractor working for the school system — and questioned if she was a “good fit” at her job within the school division. This happened after meetings and communications with the parent that school staff described as “very uncomfortable” and “aggressive,” according to OCR.
The parent is neither identified by name nor occupation. OCR said the contractor was informed by the division that it did not want her to continue working at a division school.
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In her time working in several schools in the division, she received an overall performance rating of “S,” indicating “the employee meets expectations,” OCR’s findings say.
After the division questioned the parent’s professionalism, the contractor emailed her to say she would be reassigned to work in a neighboring school division. The email stated, “Your move (redacted information) had nothing to do with any performance problems. It was unrelated to your job duties or work.”
The school division acknowledged it had entered into a resolution agreement with OCR on June 29 to provide compensation for the parent, as well as several other measures related to unlawful retaliation.
“This agreement does not constitute an admission by the division of a violation of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504), Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (Title II), or any other law enforced by OCR,” writes Diana Gulotta, spokesman for Hampton City Schools, in an emailed response to the Daily Press. “The matter was resolved to preserve school division resources for the core business of Hampton City Schools — providing a quality education to all students.”
According to OCR’s letter to Superintendent Jeffery Smith, the parent’s daughter received services through an individualized education program, which is required for children who receive special educational services.
Five IEP meetings were held for the student in an unidentified school year. The school division’s statement says the complaint was filed in the 2014-2015 school year.
At one of those meetings, the parent accused a staff member of a breach of confidentiality regarding her daughter’s special education status, the letter says.
The principal of an unidentified school said that the parent “verbally attacked” staff members at an IEP meeting. The principal said that when staff would cite information, the parent would “throw it back” at them. The principal said it was “draining” to deal with the parent, according to the letter.
The principal of the school where the parent was employed said there were never problems with the woman and that her performance reviews were positive.
On an unidentified date, a division attorney representing the concerns of the then-superintendent called the parent’s employer, which resulted in her termination, according to OCR.
Linda Shifflette served as superintendent of the school division for five years until her retirement in June 2015.
The resolution agreement says HCS must compensate the parent for all expenses she incurred “as a result of the division’s actions.” The parent told OCR that she incurred $22,960 in damages.
Also, an unidentified person or persons are only allowed to attend IEP or parent-teacher meetings when the parent notifies the division she will have counsel present, or a five-day notice has been given in advance of the meeting.
The resolution also requires the division to amend policies to prohibit retaliation against those engaged in activities protected by federal law, such as the actions the parent took when advocating for her daughter.
All administrators must receive a to-be-developed memorandum about unlawful retaliation, and the division must also provide training to administrators.
The school board chairman, currently Martha Mugler, and/or Superintendent Smith must consider holding a conference with division employees to discuss the allegation of retaliation and OCR’s determination. It is not required, but the division must tell OCR within 30 days if it does not occur and why.
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