Former school board president alleged discrimination against son
By Jeff Simms
The Beacon City School District failed to provide a high school student with a learning disability the “free appropriate public education” that is guaranteed by law, according to a federal investigation.
As a result, district officials have agreed to meet by Jan. 16 to discuss a settlement with the student’s mother, former school board President Melissa Thompson, who filed a complaint last year with the Office for Civil Rights (OCR), an arm of the U.S. Department of Education.
The Beacon school board voted to approve the agreement with OCR during its Dec. 12 meeting. The Current received the agreement through a Freedom of Information Law request.
The resolution directs the district to convene “a group of people knowledgeable about the student,” who graduated last year, to determine if he “requires any remedial and/or compensatory services as a result of the district’s failure to implement provisions” in a federally mandated learning plan known as a 504 during the 2015-16 school year. Any remedial or compensatory services must be delivered by March 30, according to the agreement.
The district will comply with OCR’s requirements, Beacon school board President Anthony White said.
A 504 is a plan designed to help students with learning and attention issues participate in the classroom. For Thompson’s son, who has a nonverbal learning disability, it advised instructors to make sure he wrote down assignments and set a schedule for annual meetings between his parents and teachers.
In a series of complaints filed in May, Thompson — who served on the school board for nine years but did not run for re-election last spring — alleged that Beacon High School teachers failed to acknowledge her son’s 504 plan, in part because he is African-American.
“It’s a lack of caring,” she asserted on Jan. 11. “It’s that mentality that ‘the special ed department will help those kids because I don’t teach special ed.’”
According to a letter summarizing the OCR findings, the district failed to convene the meeting between Thompson, her husband and an instructor who taught their son in college-level government and psychology courses in the fall of 2015. Additionally, OCR found that the teacher did not check the student’s daily planner to make sure he wrote down his homework assignments, as required by the 504.
Poor grades in those classes led to the student’s removal from the National Honor Society and may have cost him a chance at athletic scholarships, Thompson said. Her son has since accepted a scholarship offer to play baseball at Eastern Kentucky University where he will enroll this fall.
While Thompson’s complaints alleged racial discrimination, OCR’s findings only addressed issues related to her son’s learning disability.
The OCR agreement also stipulates that the Beacon school district must provide training by Feb. 15 to all principals, assistant principals, general and special education teachers and guidance counselors, as well as 504 and Individualized Education Program (IEP) case managers, to ensure the implementation of 504s and IEPs for Beacon High School students with learning disabilities.
Thompson called that component a “critical piece” of the agreement.
“I’m happy with the resolution in that it provides training for all staff,” she said, “and I believe that the district has been tasked to provide real, concrete training.”