Former board president alleged discrimination
By Jeff Simms
The Beacon City School District has reached an agreement resolving a federal Office for Civil Rights (OCR) investigation of the school system, although the district has not released details of the settlement.
The investigation was prompted by complaints made earlier this year by Melissa Thompson, a former school board president. A spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Education, which oversees the OCR, would not provide specifics but said it involved possible disability discrimination and racial harassment.
Thompson, a former nine-year member of the school board, filed a series of complaints with the OCR against the district in May, alleging racial discrimination and “carelessness” in its treatment of her special-needs son, who graduated in June from Beacon High School.
The agreement with the OCR was approved without discussion by the Beacon school board on Dec. 12 as part of a bundle of administrative items during its regular meeting. The board directed interim Superintendent Ann Marie Quartironi to “take the steps necessary to ensure that the compliance activities required by the Resolution Agreement occur.” The Current has filed a Freedom of Information Law request for more details on what the district is required to do.
Thompson said Dec. 13 that the OCR interviewed her son, who is African-American, on Nov. 8. Her complaint charged that he lost out on athletic scholarships after Beacon High officials failed to acknowledge a learning disability that led to falling grades and his removal from the National Honor Society. She also alleged that teachers and administrators failed to accommodate her son’s “504” — a plan designed to help students with learning and attention issues participate in the classroom — even after it was brought to their attention.
While her complaints alleged discrimination based on her son’s disability and race, as well as an unsafe environment and retaliation, Thompson said the OCR was “only able to fully investigate” the charge of discrimination based on his learning disability.
In an interview with The Current in June, soon after she left the board (she did not run for re-election), Thompson called the Beacon school system “broken,” saying it fostered a culture of discrimination. That, she said Dec. 13, was why she chose to file a federal complaint rather than pursue an internal investigation.
Interim superintendent a while longer
The school district has extended its agreement with interim superintendent Ann Marie Quartironi through June 30, unless a permanent superintendent is hired sooner.
Quartironi, who is also the deputy superintendent, was appointed in January after Barbara Walkley resigned from the post. She has performed both jobs since, receiving a stipend of $200 per day as the interim chief.
The recruitment firm hired by the district to conduct the superintendent search has narrowed the field to 17 candidates, down from 48 initial applicants. The second round of interviews will begin shortly, board member Meredith Heuer said during the Dec. 12 meeting.