Panama City mother to sue school system for expelling son, file civil rights lawsuit
PANAMA CITY – Although his son has obtained more than 50 disciplinary references as a student for Bay District SchoolsRebecca Newell says she doesn’t think it was fair or just for him to be kicked out.
On Thursday, Newell and the Bay County-based Student Advocacy Center held a meeting with various local media at her home in Panama City to announce that she plans to sue the district on behalf of her son, appeal her deportation and file a civil rights complaint.
The event was to be a public press conference held outside and in front of the Nelson Building – the district’s main office – but its time and location were changed due to rain.
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“Being a single mom of three kids (who work overtime), I didn’t know how to handle his behavior at school,” Newell said of her son, a 15-year-old freshman. “A group of board members decided my son’s future in public education based on behavioral recommendations lacking the assessments he needed.
“School administration should consider more behavioral assessments and cover all leads before expulsion,” she added. “I am appealing the eviction verdict and suing the Bay District for failing to identify and assess my son and provide him with the services he needed, which they are supposed to do by law.”
Bay District school officials were unable to dispute Newell’s claims because she refused to sign a release – based on the advice of her attorney – that allowed them to comment on the school records of his son.
In an emailed statement, Sharon Michalik, spokesperson for the district, wrote that the district “is committed to complying with all state laws, procedures and policies with respect to disciplinary offenses and consequences.” .
Noting that student safety is the district’s number one priority, Michalik also said that “our parents and guardians expect us to do everything possible to ensure that our schools are safe places for teaching and learning. and we will continue to do so.”
“As we’ve said before, 99% of our students are following the rules and behaving appropriately at school,” she wrote. “Unfortunately, the behavior of a few students is what is attracting media attention and it’s a shame because those few students do not represent the vast majority of children in our community.”
Newell said his son’s expulsion was sparked by a fight in September at Rutherford High School in which he and many other students were involved. She said her son warned several school officials before the incident that some students might try to incite violence.
His expulsion hearing then took place in November, during which Newell told members of the Bay District School Board that she thought the expulsion was too harsh since he had never been offered an opportunity to alternative education, such as attending Rosenwald Secondary School.
She also said it didn’t seem fair that her involvement in the fight was lumped in with her past credentials.
Four out of five school board members agreed that he should not be expelled and attend an alternative high school, but Bay Superintendent Bill Husfelt, who did not attend the hearing, declined their recommendation, Newell said.
“I’m involved…as much as I can as long as I work,” she said. “When does the school come in. They like to say ‘it starts with the parents.’ Well I’ve been involved I’ve disciplined and worked with my children at home all their lives When does the school step in and help I can’t be there 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.”
According to Gregory Dossie, founder and director of the Student Advocacy Center, the September scuffle took place the day the student returned from his suspension — his second suspension of the school year.
Dossie, who acted as the student’s representative at the expulsion hearing, said the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act requires all school districts to identify, locate and assess all students with disabilities, regardless of their severity.
“This obligation to identify all children who may need special education services exists even if the school does not provide special education services to the child,” Dossie said. “Disabilities can be a behavioral problem. There could be other underlying things (like) ADHD or something like that.”
Dossie said the student was in a program to help manage his behavior from grades one through five. It ended after elementary school and then he started getting suspended and referred instead.
“You have a problem with the school district using suspensions and expulsions as a way to manage behavior,” he said. “Students (of color) are still disproportionately disciplined. You may have about 12% or 16% … black students in Bay District schools, yet 40% (are victims) of suspensions and expulsions unique.”
This article originally appeared on The News Herald: Panama City mother sues school system over son’s expulsion