By Tim Farley
Melanie Berry wants Piedmont school officials to do their job and help her teenage son with problems stemming from Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).
After years of dealing with the district’s Special Services Director Lynda White and Superintendent James White, Berry was fed up with the lack of action regarding her son and daughter, both of whom require special services for their educational disabilities.
In June, Berry filed a civil rights complaint with the U.S. Department of Education alleging Piedmont school administrators discriminated against her eighth-grade son because of his disability. Berry claims her son’s ADHD “substantially limits his ability to concentrate, think and communicate.”
Superintendent White said the district has not received official notification of a civil rights complaint.
Berry’s son is intelligent and has a high IQ. He’s enrolled in Advanced Placement classes and scores high on tests. He’s also been on the Academic Team since fourth grade.
“His working memory is at the top of the charts, but his processing speed is at the bottom of the charts,” Berry said. “His brain is working so fast he can retain it all, but then he tries to write it out and the brakes go on.”
As a result, Berry requested a meeting with school officials seeking relief for her son under the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Civil Rights Vocational Rehabilitation Act of 1973.
Berry requested nine classroom accommodations that she and her son’s physician believe would be beneficial. The requests were denied by Lynda White who claims Berry’s son does not have ADHD.
“He was diagnosed by a medical doctor,” Berry said. “Her (White’s) reasoning was because he makes good grades and is in advanced classes. You can be Einstein and if you need a service they must provide it to you.”
White’s rejection prompted the civil rights complaint which was filed with help from Joy Turner, an attorney with the Oklahoma Disability Law Center.
In July, the U.S. Department of Education released a guidance paper clarifying the obligation of schools to provide students with ADHD with equal educational opportunities under the 1973 Rehabilitation Act. The guidance makes clear that schools must not rely on the generalization that students who perform well academically cannot also be substantially limited in major life activities, such as reading, learning, writing and thinking; and that such a student can, in fact, be a person with a disability.
Berry alleges Linda White has not fulfilled her duties to help Piedmont students with special disabilities.
“Fortunately I know exactly what my kids are going through. I also get feedback from parents who go into meetings with teachers and principals and they (parents) come out feeling belittled,” she said. “It’s easy for them (teachers and principals) to be short and dismissive.”
Berry also believes school officials have retaliated against her because of the civil rights complaint. In September, Elizabeth Biggs and Berry sent an email to Lynda White and Superintendent White requesting the school district collaborate with the Piedmont Parent Network, an online support group for special education issues, on an Individual Educational Plan workshop for parents.
The parent network requested in September access to a school facility for the workshop. The parent network also asked the district to send out a community email informing the public about the workshop. Both requests were denied by school officials.
“I can only conclude that because of my past issues with the school district this is how the administration chose to react to any of my requests,” Berry said. “If not, why would the school administration have a problem with parents knowing how to advocate for their children’s education?”
After rejecting the parent network’s request, Berry pointed out that the district sent out five other community emails promoting a local business, little league sports and a community Halloween event.
However, the superintendent said the district requested additional information about the scheduled workshop and the speaker’s credentials. That information, he said, was never received.
Berry countered that the parent network “responded with as much of the information as we could. We could not get the outline or presentation in a timely fashion so we replied as such.”
Ultimately, the parent network held the workshop at the United Methodist Church.
Berry said Lynda White already knew the speaker’s credentials and the information that would be presented.
“She knew who they are and what they do,” Berry said.