Legal Aid Justice Center files complaint against Petersburg Publ - NBC12.com - Richmond, VA News

Legal Aid Justice Center files complaint against Petersburg Public Schools

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PETERSBURG, VA (WWBT) -

The Legal Aid Justice Center says special needs students in Petersburg Public Schools are falling through the cracks. Thursday morning, the organization filed a complaint with the Department of Education.

"Instead of evaluating and providing services," said Nicole Dooley, the lead attorney on the case, "Petersburg's discipline data suggests that they are engaging in a pattern of suspending students for behavior related to their unidentified disabilities."

Wiping away tears, Tiurice Clark says her son was suspended for 80 days his Kindergarten year.

"For a child to be so young, what's going to happen when they get older?" she asked. According Legal Aid Justice Center, kids like Clark's are more likely to drop out or worse.

Clark is one of six parents represented in this complaint, which says the lack of action by Petersburg schools has driven at least one student to threaten suicide.

"We have seen students over many years with this same issue, and we initially tried to work with Petersburg directly to resolve the issue," said Dooley.

She says while they've tried to work with Petersburg, the problems persist. One in five students were suspended in Petersburg last year, which is way above the statewide average.

In an emailed statement, Superintendent Dr. Joseph Melvin said

Petersburg City Public Schools operates a wide range of effective programs and activities to locate, identify, and serve students with disabilities. Petersburg has actively taken significant, productive steps to address the stated concerns of the Legal Aid Justice Center even though those concerns are not shared.

"Petersburg has partnered with the Virginia Department of Education to evaluate our existing and effective "child find" program. We have also partnered with the Virginia Department of Education to develop a positive behavior intervention and supports program, which will be implemented division-wide for all students this fall. One anticipated benefit of this program is to reduce the number of disciplinary actions.

Even though Petersburg City Public Schools disagrees with the Legal Aid Justice Center's allegations, our staff has met with the group to address their concerns and avoid a complaint. Unfortunately, because of the actions of the Legal Aid Justice Center, Petersburg City Public Schools will be forced to expend its valuable financial and human resources responding to the complaint rather than using our resources for the benefit of Petersburg's children. Petersburg City Public Schools will continue to develop and implement effective programs for all students, including our students with disabilities.

The Center maintains what Petersburg has been doing hasn't worked and the parents listed in the complaint agree.

"We need help," said parent Tawanda Walker. 'We really need help. It's not about our kids being bad like they say, our kids need help."

The complaint asks that the DOE bring in an outside expert to evaluate Petersburg schools. The Department has seven days to review their complaint and decide if its valid.

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