The Lindbergh High School student claims she was unjustly accused of cheating and then unfairly penalized even after the Renton School Board agreed to drop the day of detention she’d been assessed.
Speaking Tuesday, the teen’s attorney, Greg McBroom, said his client is concerned that the poor mark she received will hurt her chances of getting into college.
“That’s the only reason she’s filing the lawsuit,” said McBroom, an attorney with the Kirkland firm Livengood Alskog. “She’s never had any problems with the school. No disciplinary record. Nothing.”
The student isn’t seeking financial compensation – she’s simply asked that a King County Superior Court judge to reverse the decision of the Seattle suburb’s school board and restore her grade.
An odd set of circumstances prompted the unusual legal action.
The teen was accused of cheating after her chemistry teacher found notes in a pencil pouch accessible to her during the test in June, McBroom said. The attorney said his client wasn’t spotted cheating, but that the teacher assumed she was using a crib sheet.
Over her protests, she received a failing grade as well as a day in detention, a punishment she was to serve during the next school year. Rather than accept the punishment, the teen appealed to Lindbergh Principal Tres Genger and ultimately the Renton School Board.
The board split the punishment following a Sept. 11 meeting with the parties involved – it upheld the failing grade while invalidating the detention order and removing it from the student’s record.
“After careful review, the council finds that the final grade submitted by the teacher, with the reduction for the academic infraction, is upheld by a preponderance of the evidence submitted,” board member Al Talley wrote in the Sept. 23 decision.
That decision prompted the lawsuit, in which McBroom contended the evidence does not support the board’s conclusions. A superior court judge will now be asked to weigh in on the matter.
Washington parents and students regularly face off with school districts in court to contest disciplinary matters.
Often, parents believe their child was punished more sternly than other children for similar behavior, or more harshly than school policies require. The punishment at issue is usually a long-term suspension or expulsion; disciplinary action impacting a promising young athlete’s eligibility to play sometimes draws legal action as well.
State law allows for parents or students to ask the superior court to review disciplinary decisions after the administrative appeals process is exhausted. Similar laws allow for homeowners unhappy with a permitting decision or building inspection to take their dispute to a judge.
Matters were complicated for the Lindbergh student in part because she hoped to change her grade as well as avoid a day of detention.
While punishments like detention are subject to appeal, grades normally are not, said Randy Matheson, a Renton School District spokesman.
In the district’s view, the appeal that followed the incident was focused primarily on the punishment. Students can’t appeal grades they don’t like to the school board, Matheson said.
“We trust our teachers to dole out the grade based on a student’s work, and if there’s a challenge to that it happens at the school level,” he continued.
A preliminary hearing date has not yet been set, though McBroom said his client hopes to have the matter resolved as quickly as possible as she’s poised to begin her college hunt. The district has not filed a formal response with the court.