All the dirt, news, culture and commentary for Oklahoma's second century.

Feds to investigate Piedmont schools over disability discrimination

Tim Farley / Red Dirt Report
Fertile Ground Compost Service
Help support Red Dirt Report

District retaliated against mother who advocated for her child, parent alleges

OKLAHOMA CITY – Federal education officials will launch an investigation into allegations that Piedmont Public Schools’ special education director denied services to at least one student because she didn’t believe he has a disability.

Melanie Berry, a mother of four students who attend Piedmont schools, filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education’s Civil Rights division claiming her son was discriminated against because of his Attention Hyperactivity Disorder. Berry also alleged in the federal complaint that district officials retaliated against her by ending her employment as a substitute teacher. Prior to her dismissal, she had asserted her son’s right to special education and related services, which must be provided under federal law.

In a letter dated Nov. 29, Maria North, a U.S. Department of Education civil rights attorney, wrote the agency will investigate Berry’s allegations under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability by recipients of federal financial assistance. Piedmont schools receive federal money to operate several of its programs, including special education.

Piedmont Superintendent James White did not return a phone call for comment. Lynda White is director of the district’s special services department.

Berry, who has scolded school board members and the superintendent in public meetings, said she’s thrilled the investigation will occur.

“I’m looking forward to this investigation taking place,” she said. “I was at a meeting and ran into [Oklahoma Superintendent of Public Instruction] Joy Hofmeister and told her about our situation. She was concerned the U.S. Department of Education was taking up the complaint. It’s extremely sad the state superintendent has given me more attention than our own superintendent.”

Melanie Berry. (Photo provided)

Berry made the same comment to school board members Monday night, but they provided little, if any, reaction.

“All they [school board members] do is give you the blind eye and deaf ear,” she said. “I find the board members as much at fault in my son’s situation as I do [Special Services Director] Lynda White and James White. I find them all at fault. This is going to cost them all time and money.”

Berry filed the civil rights complaint with the U.S. Department of Education in June alleging Piedmont school administrators discriminated against her eighth-grade son because of his disability. Berry claims her son’s ADHD “substantially limits his ability to concentrate, think and communicate.”

Superintendent White said last month the district had not received official notification of a civil rights complaint.

James White. (Photo provided)

Berry’s son is intelligent and has a high IQ. He’s enrolled in Advanced Placement classes and scores high on tests. He’s also been on the Academic Team since fourth grade.

“His working memory is at the top of the charts, but his processing speed is at the bottom of the charts,” Berry said. “His brain is working so fast he can retain it all, but then he tries to write it out and the brakes go on.”

As a result, Berry requested a meeting with school officials seeking relief for her son under the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Civil Rights Vocational Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Berry requested nine classroom accommodations that she and her son’s physician believe would be beneficial. The requests were denied by Lynda White who claims Berry’s son does not have ADHD.

“He was diagnosed by a medical doctor,” Berry said. “Her [White’s] reasoning was because he makes good grades and is in advanced classes. You can be Einstein and if you need a service they must provide it to you.”

White’s rejection prompted the civil rights complaint which was filed with help from Joy Turner, an attorney with the Oklahoma Disability Law Center.

In July, the U.S. Department of Education released a guidance paper clarifying the obligation of schools to provide students with ADHD with equal educational opportunities under the 1973 Rehabilitation Act. The guidance makes clear that schools must not rely on the generalization that students who perform well academically cannot also be substantially limited in major life activities, such as reading, learning, writing and thinking; and that such a student can, in fact, be a person with a disability.

Berry believes school officials have retaliated against her because of the civil rights complaint in two ways. First, they ended her employment as a substitute teacher last year based on hearsay comments that she did not like the high school principal. In addition, district officials denied the use of school facilities for an online support group that centers on special education needs.

In September, Elizabeth Biggs and Berry sent an email to Lynda White and Superintendent White requesting the school district collaborate with the Piedmont Parent Network, an online support group for special education issues, on an Individual Educational Plan workshop for parents. The parent network requested in September access to a school facility for the workshop. The parent network also asked the district to send out a community email informing the public about the workshop. Both requests were denied by school officials.

“I can only conclude that because of my past issues with the school district this is how the administration chose to react to any of my requests,” Berry said. “If not, why would the school administration have a problem with parents knowing how to advocate for their children’s education?”

After rejecting the parent network’s request, Berry pointed out that the district sent out five other community emails promoting a local business, little league sports and a community Halloween event.

However, the superintendent said the district requested additional information about the scheduled workshop and the speaker’s credentials. That information, he said, was never received.

Berry countered that the parent network “responded with as much of the information as we could. We could not get the outline or presentation in a timely fashion so we replied as such.”

Ultimately, the parent network held the workshop at the United Methodist Church in Piedmont.

Berry said Lynda White already knew the speaker’s credentials and the information that would be presented.

“She knew who they are and what they do,” Berry said.

Enjoy this? Please share it!

About the Author

Tim Farley

Tim Farley is an award-winning journalist with more than 30 years of experience, including...

read more

Enjoy this? Please share it!

About Red Dirt Report

Red Dirt Report was launched July 4, 2007 as an independent news website covering all manner of news, culture, entertainment and lifestyle stories that affect and interest Oklahoma readers and readers outside of our state. Our mission is to educate, promote civic engagement and discourse on public policy, government and politics. Our experienced journalists provided balanced in-depth coverage of news stories that affect Oklahomans. Our opinion/editorial stories come from a wide range of political view points. We carry out our mission by reporting, writing, and posting news and information. read more

Member of the Oklahoma Press Association
Member of Investigative Reporters & Editors
Member of Diversity Business Association
Member of Uptown 23rd
Rotary Club of Bricktown OKC
Keep it Local OK