Cairo Association of Teachers - Newsletter

CAT Tracks for May 10, 2007

From the Charleston Daily Mail...

Teacher in leaf collection lawsuit expresses relief

Jessica M. Karmasek
Daily Mail staff

A Kanawha County teacher who was sued for giving a student a failing grade said today it's a victory for all educators that the lawsuit has been dismissed.

Circuit Judge Duke Bloom on Tuesday threw out the lawsuit, filed against Sissonville High School teacher Jane Schultz and the Kanawha County school board by the parents of sophomore Lindsay Hay, who was given a failing grade on a leaf project.

Schultz said today she maintains a good relationship with Hay, despite the legal battle.

"I get along with her fine," Schultz said. "We had a pretty good relationship before. She just messed up."

Schultz said she was relieved to hear of Bloom's decision, and so were other teachers.

In a prepared statement, Schultz said, "I am thankful for Judge Bloom's decision to dismiss this case, not just on my behalf, but on the behalf of all teachers. Every teacher I know tries to ensure success for each student as much as possible. We would not be in this profession otherwise.

"We also must have the professional latitude to establish our own policies and enforce them," she said. "We cannot be effective in the classroom while harboring paranoia about parents second-guessing grades or every mark we make on a paper."

According to the lawsuit, Hay was given a failing grade for not turning in a leaf project in Schultz's advanced biology class on the date it was due.

The lawsuit says the girl was out of school that day on an approved student council trip to Jackson's Mill.

Bloom said there are a number of reasons he granted the defendants' motion to dismiss the lawsuit.

Bloom cited a section in West Virginia code that says a teacher cannot change a student's grade unless there is a mathematical error.

The law reads, "No teacher may be required by a principal or any other person to change a student's grade on either an individual assignment or a report card unless there is clear and convincing evidence that there was a mathematical error in calculating the student's grade."

Bloom writes in his opinion, "There has been no suggestion of any mathematical error with respect to calculating the grade (Hay) received on her leaf project. Therefore, this caveat does not apply to this case."

He writes that although Hay claimed she was not seeking a grade change, "a change in grade is exactly what is being sought. It is the sole reason this civil action was filed and no amount of dissembling will alter that fact."

Karen McElhinny, the lawyer representing Schultz and the school board, said Tuesday she was "very pleased with Judge Bloom's well-reasoned opinion."

Janice Hay, the student's mother and a financial systems coordinator at the state Department of Education, said earlier today she "would rather not comment" on Bloom's decision, but that it was not the family's intent to seek damages when the lawsuit was filed.

Schultz said today she has no hostility toward the Hays.

"This is a tremendous relief, of course, to have this case finally settled," she said. "Because of the love and grace God has shown to me, I would hope I could extend the same to this family."

Other teachers have described Schultz as a "well-respected, veteran teacher" in the school system.

In a prepared statement, she said, "Anyone who knows me can tell you that I love my students and do my best to treat each one of them fairly. But I truly desire to teach my students more than just biology. Every day I try to model responsibility, honesty, cooperation, a strong work ethic, and other values that will serve them long after they graduate from high school."

According to the lawsuit, Hay was scheduled to attend a student council conference from Sunday, Oct. 15, 2006, through the following Tuesday, Oct. 17. The leaf project -- an assignment in which students typically collect and classify leaves -- was due Tuesday.

Hay had completed her project that Saturday and left for the student council leadership training at 10 a.m. Sunday, the lawsuit said. She returned from the trip after the end of the school day Tuesday and she turned in her project Wednesday morning.

"At no time was the minor plaintiff told by the teacher that she would be punished for being a part of student council by being required to turn her project in prior to the due date," the lawsuit said.

But the school's student council advisor, in a letter to the Daily Mail, said the project could have been turned in Friday or left in the teacher's room that Sunday prior to the start of the student council trip. That's what another student did before attending the same conference, the advisor said.

The lawsuit contended Schultz was trying to punish the student for being in student council "by intentionally ruining her ĎA' average."

Initially, Schultz gave Hay a zero on the project. Schultz then decided, after talking to administrators, to award her half credit.

"Actually, the principal, Mr. McKinney, said he would have supported me giving her a zero," Schultz said.