Henrico and Chesterfield Schools included in $20 million lawsuit

Published: Jul. 3, 2014 at 1:25 PM EDT|Updated: Jul. 13, 2014 at 1:25 PM EDT
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HENRICO, VA (WWBT) - Families who have children with special needs just filed a $20 million lawsuit against several school systems, including Henrico and Chesterfield Counties.  They claim school leaders broke federal laws when it comes to educating their children.

Individuals from Henrico, Chesterfield, Essex and Nottoway schools are listed.  The Virginia Department of Education and two lawyers who represented the districts are also included in this 75 page lawsuit.

Charlotte Hodges is the attorney representing these families. She the families who have children with disabilities say they're fed up with fighting a school system that works against them.  Hodges says the lawsuit is a last resort.

"It was not diminishing. It was in fact growing as more of a problem," she said.

The families claim the various school districts violated federal law when it came to providing an education and safe environment at school.

"Unfortunately what I have discovered is there is a culture of individuals who have determined that they are either going to ignore federal law with regard to these kids, not pay attention to supposed to be doing, don't care what they're supposed to be doing or turned a blind eye to what's happening to these kids," she said.

Examples listed in the suit include an incident at Sandston Elementary School involving a child with a learning disability and who is handicapped.  It says for several hours a child was "locked in a classroom as discipline for a disability related emotional outburst."  It says when the child started to "panic," the principal and "other administrators inappropriately restrained him."  And as a result, the child "developed bruises on his head, arms, legs and upper torso."

"No child should ever be locked in a classroom by a teacher who can't deal with him, no child should ever be charged with truancy because they are medically unable come to school, no child should be humiliated in front of her peers in a classroom by a teacher who refuses to acknowledge her IEP," says Hodges.

IEP stands for an Individualized Education Plan which makes sure a student with a disability meets education goals.

Another example is on an incident at John Rolfe Middle School involving a child who is handicapped and has a learning disability.  It says the child dealt with documented medical problems and was reluctant "to attend school because she had been bullied and verbally abused by...a teacher."   According to these documents, truancy charges were filed against the child.

Henrico School leaders and current and former employees make up almost half of the defendants on the lawsuit.  It includes former superintendent Dr. Patrick Russo, an assistant superintendent, the social work supervisor, the school board, eight principals and a teacher.  Chesterfield's superintendent Dr. Marcus Newsome is also listed along with the school board and three principals.

The suit also claims some school leaders have retaliated against parents who have spoken out and parents are being bullied when it comes to making an Individualized Education Plan for their children.  It also cites violations concerning African American students with disabilities, particularly male students.

Hodges says this is not an indictment against all teachers and administrators. She says there are plenty of school staff members who work hard and help these children.

NBC12 reached out to every school district named in the suit, and the Virginia Department of Education.  School leaders are aware of the lawsuit, but have no comment at this time.  A Henrico Schools spokesperson did say it will vigorously oppose the allegations in court.

The defendants listed in the lawsuit are (for HCPS, some individuals no longer work for the school district or are now at different schools):

The Virginia Department of Education

Henrico County Public Schools

Former HCPS Superintendent Dr. Patrick Russo

Henrico County School Board

Asst. Superintendent Exceptional Education Bondy Shay Gibson

HCPS Social Work Supervisor Jan Parrish

Arthur Raymond III- Principal of George H. Moody Middle School

Michael Wright – Principal of Highland Springs H.S.

Tracy Seamster – Principal of Sandston Elementary School

Dr. Andrew Armstrong – Principal of John Rolfe M.S. and Principal of Hermitage H.S.

Kim Taylor – Teacher at John Rolfe M.S.

Felicia Burkhalter – Principal of Ratcliffe Elementary

Traci Omohundro – Principal of Varina H.S.

Cheri Guempel – Principal of Elko M.S.

Karen Rawlyk – Principal of Crewstview Elementary

Chesterfield County Public Schools

Chesterfield Superintendent Dr. Marcus J. Newsome

Chesterfield County School Board

Mary Robinson – Principal of Swift Creek M.S.

Carol Lewellyn – Principal of Salem Church Elementary

Rachel Foglesong – Principal of A.M. Davis Elementary

Essex County Public Schools

Essex County School Board

Superintendent of Essex County Public Schools Scott Burckbuchler

Andrea Roane – Principal of Essex Intermediate School

Tammy Payne – Teacher at Essex Intermediate School

W. Reynolds– Teacher at Essex Intermediate School

Nottoway County Public Schools

Superintendent of Nottoway Public Schools Daniel Grounard

Anne Stinson – Principal of Nottoway County High School

Robert Hines – teacher at Nottoway County High School

Kathleen Mehfoud, Esquire- of ReedSmith, LLP; served as counsel for local school districts in Central Virginia

Patrick Andriano, Esquire – of ReedSmith, LLP; served as counsel for local school districts in Central Virginia

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