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Vol 2.42   

Thick binders contain documents related to the Oglesbys' federal lawsuit against the Ellenville Central School District.   Photo by Tod Westlake
I'll see you in court...
School Sued in Federal Court Over Civil Rights Violation

ELLENVILLE � The Ellenville Central School District is currently embroiled in a legal conflict at the federal level with two district parents, Sandra and Donald Oglesby, who've brought a civil suit against the school over claims that the district violated their civil rights as parents of special-needs children.

The conflict has arisen from the parents' allegations that the school district has a 'policy of retaliation' against those who complain to the school about teachers or staff. In this instance, the school reported the parents to New York State Child Protective Services (CPS), which investigated the parents for alleged abuse of their adopted special-needs children � an investigation that revealed no abuse by the Oglesbys upon its conclusion.

Family Recounts �Nightmare�
By Tod Westlake

ELLENVILLE � If you had a child who was having emotional issues, you would probably do something similar to what Donald and Sandra Oglesby did: You would seek out the best available help for this child. You would employ the best mental health professionals at your disposal as part of a larger effort to bring the child into emotional balance. You would also expect the public school system, an institution with policies and procedures in place for dealing with troubled kids, to do everything possible to work with you in order to facilitate the child's recovery.     > MORE

The Oglesbys contend that CPS was called as an act of reprisal against the parents to punish or intimidate them for their complaints, and part of an institutionalized policy of retaliation to protect staff members whom parents have found to be "incompetent or abusive," as described in a legal document associated with the case.

The Oglesbys have two adopted twin daughters, one of whom, during the 2005-2006 school year, while in second grade, was in need of special assistance and accommodations because of an emotional disability that was developed while in the care of her biological parents � in this case, an emotional disorder that manifested itself in the form of a compulsion to sexually self-mutilate while in the bathroom. The Oglesbys required that their daughter be monitored while in the bathroom to prevent her self-mutilation from occurring, but the parents say their requests were refused.

Furthermore, the Oglesbys also made complaints to the district about the treatment of their children by their teachers � the twins and their own biological son � at which point the district contacted New York State Child Protective Services (CPS) to investigate their household out of concern for the twins' welfare.

The investigation bore no fruit, however, and CPS found that the Oglesbys had not committed any acts of abuse toward their children.

In turn, the parents filed the suit against the district for the distress the CPS investigations caused, viewing the school's complaint and subsequent investigation as nothing more than a retaliation tactic for their concern over their children's treatment.

Specifically, the Oglesbys are alleging that the district has "developed a policy and/or practice of retaliating against parents whom express concerns to the District regarding incompetent or abusive staff members and conditions adversely affecting the health and safety of students including those with disabilities that have special educational needs." The Oglesbys also claim to have spoken with other district parents who claim to have had similar experiences with the school regarding their children.

A large part of the Ogelsbys' argument is a nearly four week gap between when a lawyer working as the district's legal counsel suggested that the school contact CPS and when they actually did. If the twins were actually in danger or being abused by their parents, the Oglesbys ask, why did the district wait almost a month to make a report? The gap indicates to them and their lawyer, Jonathan Lovett, that the district knew there was no actual danger, and that the report to CPS was only made to intimidate the family.

A "mandated reporter" is legally required to report suspected child abuse or mistreatment to CPS. Mandated reporters are defined by New York State as "school officials, school teachers, school guidance counselors, school psychologists, school social workers, school nurses, school administrators and other school personnel required to hold a teaching or administrative license who are mandated to report cases of suspected child abuse or maltreatment."

John Donoghue, the school's legal counsel (though apparently not the one who had suggested the CPS call) alleges that the time lag in the call is, in fact, not actually significant or relevant to the situation.

"I didn't understand why it came up, and I don't understand it now," said Donoghue. However, in terms of case specifics, the attorney referred to the lawyer representing the school in the case, Richard Laberth. Calls placed to Laberth's law firm were not returned as of press time.

The suit was first filed against the school in 2007, and motions by the district to have it dismissed have been subsequently twice denied. At this point, the school district has made a summary judgment application, which means that if a judge decides that there are questions of fact that need to be determined (such as whether the school does indeed have an alleged retaliation policy), the case will move forward. Without a question of fact, however, the case can still be dismissed.

Named in the suit, along with the school district itself, are School Superintendent Lisa Wiles, Elementary School Principal Holly Eikszta, teacher Nancy Sharoff, School Nurse Victoria Leland, School Psychologist Theresa Sheely, Special Education Chairperson Sherry Sharpe, and Elementary School Assistant Principal and 504 Committee Chairperson Tashia Brown (the 504 Committee works within a school to develop programs to work with students with disabilities that otherwise impede their educations). Richard Laberth is representing all those who have been named in the suit. The defendants in the suit either declined to comment on the case, or did not return phone calls as of press time.

Pending the outcome of the summary judgment, a court date has yet to be set.

Gutter Gutter

Sue Cummings

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