Henrico County Public School Officials Use Henrico’s Commonwealth Attorney, Juvenile Courts, and Sheriff To Violate Civil Rights Of African-American And Special Needs Parents

Feb 5, 2012 by

K. N. Lucas – In October 2010, The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights initiated an investigation into the Henrico County Public Schools and the extensive reports that district officials and employees engaged in institutionalized civil rights violations against students of color, students with special needs, and economically disadvantaged students. Their specific focus was on African-American male students with special needs.

In May 2011, the federal government held community forums throughout Henrico County in an effort to hear directly from the parents, residents, advocates, and students of the district whose civil rights had been belligerently violated and brutalized by school officials as they pursued educational equity, human dignity, and cultural respect within the county schools. For two days, hundreds of families of color, economically disadvantaged families, and families of special needs children shared horrific experience after horrific experience with Lead Attorney Martha Russo and her team that rivaled the experiences of Virginia in the 1950’s, during the summit of the struggle for education as a civil right for all people.
Since October 2011, Henrico County School officials have intensified their efforts to violate the civil rights of African-American families, specifically African-American women of male students with special needs, in a concerted and systematic effort to intimidate, silence, and retaliated against them for exercising their federally protected rights to pursue educational opportunities for their children in a safe, secure, and nurturing environment. Superintendent Patrick Russo and School Board Attorney Melissa Velazquez had readily taken the lead to ensure that not only are the civil rights of parents that challenge the district’s discriminatory and retaliatory actions are utterly and completely disregarded, but both of them, along with the backing of school board members; Diana Winston, Beverly Cocke, Lamont Bagby, Lisa Marshall, and John Montgomery; have engaged local law enforcement in their effort to circumvent federal law and the Constitutional rights afforded each citizen of this nation.
In what many parents, advocates, and students have characterized as “terroristic” tactics that were commonplace during the Civil Rights and Massive Resistance Movement Eras throughout Virginia less than seventy-five years ago, Henrico Schools has initiated illegal criminal actions against parents that refuse to comply with their demands and that blatantly and unapologetically violate the civil right to an education for many children specifically, their African-American male students with special needs. District administrators have gone as far as to advise parents of special needs students that they are prohibited from having either an attorney or an advocate at meetings regarding the educational services of their student, classifying the meetings as “Parent-Teacher Conferences,” only for parents to arrive at the meeting and have not only teachers at the meeting, but central office administrator as well.
While there has been confirmation by several district leaders that school officials are acting under the direction of the district’s retained attorneys from the Reed Smith Law Firm, Attorneys Kathleen Mehfoud and Patrick Andriano, the fundamental reality is that Henrico County Public School leaders have created an atmosphere and system at the district and county levels that engages in several levels of retaliation against anyone, specifically parents of special needs students, that dares to exercise their federally protected rights as citizens of the United States and parents of students with special needs.
Wrightslaw’s website, one of the foremost resources in the special education civil rights struggle, provides a chilling, yet detailed explanation of how extensive, intensive, and blatant the systematic effort to retaliate against those that serve as the voice of children with special needs is within America’s public schools as “The Retaliation Triangle,” which was first exposed when school district officials in California developed a is identified and described. The methods of delay, fear, and punishment that are components of “The Retaliation Triangle” are the same methods that are routinely employed by third world dictators and terrorists groups through out the world.
(Retrieved from: http://www.wrightslaw.com/info/retal.primer.htm)


“retaliation, n. -Syn. vengeance, reprisal, punishment; see revenge

Retaliation is the act of using official resources to “punish” parents. It can take many forms. It is not, technically, a crime and it can be difficult to detect. (Note: This is not correct. Retaliation is defined and prohibited by the Americans with Disabilities Act. Click here for the legal definition of Retaliation from the ADA) Retaliation occurs in an environment where school officials view IDEA as an unwanted imposition or as a way to develop a power base. In this setting the job is not to fully implement IDEA. Instead, school officials translate their responsibilities and duties to children and families into unquestioned decision making power over them. The profile of such officials can take two forms: openly hostile or smoothly deceptive, the latter preferring passive aggressive resistance. Hostile officials on the other hand use their position as an instrument of power to openly intimidate and even punish parents. Retaliation against parents is a taboo topic in special education. No one knows how wide spread it is, or how often it occurs. Yet, whereever parents gather and whenever parents talk among themselves, the topic of retaliation receives lively attention. The focus of this essay is on parents; however, retaliation is not limited to parents alone. Anyone who advocates for children can become the target of retaliation. (click here to read about Pamella Settlegoode, adaptive PE teacher, who sued her Portland, Oregon school district for retaliation and won a one million dollar verdict that was upheld on appeal).

Many parents never encounter retaliation. Those that do however, are usually strong advocates for their children. Regardless, retaliation does occur and the fear of retaliation inhibits many parents. This affords school officials wide latitude to implement IDEA and the ADA as they see fit. However, the underlying “causes” of retaliation are no mystery. There are two key ingredients: power and accountability – too much of the former and not enough of the later. The mechanism that seems to trigger retaliation is effective advocacy.

“The Retaliation Triangle”


triangle


Several major school districts within Virginia, such as Henrico and Chesterfield County Public Schools, go to great lengths and spend tens of thousands of taxpayers’ monies for attorneys to retaliate against parents, advocates, and even students that dare to exercise their federally protected rights pertaining to their education. These school leaders do not hesitate to falsify and/or fabricate documents, intimidate educators into silence, make false statements to state and/or local regulators/investigators, alter student records, refuse to investigate allegations of child abuse/neglect by school employees, initiate illegal ban notices, and even knowingly file false criminal charges against any parent that dares to challenge or question them.

In both, Henrico and Chesterfield County, the Directors of Special Education, Bondy Shae Gibson and Mike Asip, have brazenly and repeatedly violated federal laws aimed at protecting and educating children and families with special needs with the full support of the districts’ superintendents, school boards, and attorneys. In many instances, the acts of these school officials, that has often been compared to the actions of enemies to the Civil Rights Movement like “Bull Connor,” an ardent segregationist who used is administrative authority to keep the practice of discrimination in tact, and Senator Harry F. Byrd, Sr., who promoted the “Southern Manifesto” and its support of discriminatory, separate and unequal practices in Virginia’s schools, have gone unaddressed by local and state regulators like Sandra Ruffin of the Virginia Department of Education and Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, that are charged with protecting and defending the civil rights of Virginia’s most vulnerable citizens.

Within the last year, Henrico and Chesterfield County Public Schools have engaged in the practice of illegally banning those that they oppose from district-owned property. The “no-trespass” notices are arbitrarily issued based on the word of any one school employee and cannot be appealed by any parent or advocate that seeks to challenge the district’s actions because these district intentionally do not have a policy or procedure in place that governs banning parent/advocates.

In Henrico County, the single words of Principal Arthur Raymond of Moody Middle School and Superintendent Patrick Russo, both white males, were enough to violate the federally protected rights of several African-American mothers within the district by banning them from district-own property; forbidding them from attending PTA meetings, parent-teacher conferences, curriculum nights, awards recognitions, and even going to the school in case of an emergency with their student. In a May 2011 email to a parent, Superintendent Russo advised the parent that if there was an emergency with her student, she was not to go to the school, but was to contact his office and he would make arrangements to deal with the emergency. At the time, an investigation had been initiated against Raymond by Henrico County’s Special Victim’s Unit for failing to report child abuse, violating student confidentiality, and conspiring to commit cyberbullying involving the same student.

In another instances, even though a parent that served on Moody Middle School’s PTSA came forward to state that Principal Raymond had falsified documentation to ban the African-American mother, he was permitted to forbid that mother of a special needs student from attending an educational plan meeting at the school, forcing her to participate by phone so that she was unable to view the documents and records regarding her student. School officials not only discourage true parental participation and engagement, but do not hesitate to severely punish parents that dare to actively engage in the education of their students.

In Chesterfield Schools, Superintendent Marcus Newsome also falsified and extensively fabricated documentation in order to ban an family advocate from the district. In his “no-trespass” letter, that appeared to be authored by Attorney Kathleen Mehfoud of The Reed Law Firm, Newsome prohibited the advocate from attending any special education meetings, recording any meetings, but he also forbade her from completing classroom observations for the families that served as an advocate for; all of which are civil rights violations for which no state regulator will address.

Last month, Henrico County Public Schools held two “community forums” where both, Superintendent Patrick Russo and Executive Director of Communications and Community Outreach, stated that in order for the district to overcome the challenge of the “achievement gap,” parents must become more involved in the education of their students. Less than forty-eight hours after the second forum, the district issued an arrest warrant against a veteran African-American mother who has served in every capacity from room mother to PTSA board member because she refused to send her autistic son back to an abusive school setting and was fighting for homebound services for him. The district refused repeatedly to provide homebound, demanding that the student return to school despite a neurologist’s order that he not return to school. The district also demanded to have full access to all of her student’s medical records in the process, which she refused to provide due to being irrelevant when the physician’s order should have been sufficient. The mother was forced to comply with the directive of a physician over the directive of the school district’s attorney, Patrick Andriano, who voiced his disagreement with the doctor.

When Judith Douglas, Director of The VADOE Office of Dispute Resolution, was posed with the question of whether school districts have the legal authority to initiate criminal prosecution against parents with special needs who challenge placement decisions proposed by school leaders in an effort to coerce them into forfeiting their own rights and going along with the demands of the district regarding their student, she advised that her office was unable to provide an answer to that issues, and then referred it to the Attorney General’s office for resolution. In the meantime, parents of students with special needs that exercise their federal rights continue to be prosecuted criminally by local school districts that seek to strong-arm them into compliance.

Unfortunately, it is the norm in Henrico County to coerce parents of special needs students into complying with the demands of the school officials regarding their students by threatening parents with criminal prosecution who dare to exercise their rights, under federal law, to challenge the placement, services, and accommodations of their students. While the district officials, attorneys, as well as county and state officials understand that this is a flagrant violation of federal civil rights law by local leaders; nothing is done to terminate these acts of intimidation and retaliation.

One African-American mother advised Reed Smith Attorney Patrick Andriano, when he attempted to dehumanize her as a mother during an IEP meeting, “I was born free.” In 2011, “white slave masters” no longer have the right to determine what is best for black children. Unlike the plight of black women during the Slavery Era in Virginia, being “born free” means that African-American mothers that have been actively engaged in the education of their students for years, and are upstanding citizens within the community, cannot continue to be targeted for criminal prosecution by a school system that does not understand them, has no desire to work with them, demonizes them, and refuses to acknowledge them as human beings that are parents and have a right to determine, ultimately, what is in the best interest of their student, especially when their mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual well being is at stake. Attorneys and advocates for the parents “level the playing field” that has long been run and ruled by school district officials that have made very little or no effort to be in compliance with district, state, federal, or even moral and ethical laws. As parents grow in their awareness of their civil right to an education as well as serving as advocates for their students, we can expect to see a continued backlash by school district officials whose purpose is to limit the exercise of these rights by parents who previously had no voice because they were not permitted to.
No school district, especially those like Henrico and Chesterfield County that engage in institutionalized child abuse and systematic acts of retaliation and intimidation, has the authority to deny the rights of parents to act in the best interest of their student away from them. No parent should be forced to forfeit their God-given and federal rights in order to avoid being thrown in jail by school officials that exploit and abuse the criminal justice system. Nor should parents be forcefully isolated from their advocates and/or attorneys by school district officials just so they can isolate and intimidate them. In this country, parental rights always trump school district official’s personal agendas. School leaders can no longer cry wolf, stating that parents are not actively engaged in the education of their students when what these officials are seeking is “parental compliance,” that demands blind and unquestioning obedience; and not meaningful “parental involvement” that leads to respectful “parental engagement,” in which parents are viewed as equals at the table of educational quality and equity.
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