Citizens seek investigation

Published 12:00 am Saturday, June 3, 2006

Nearly 70 citizens — and one U.S. Congressman — are asking for some federal help to investigate theRock Hill School District’s handling of disabled and minority students, an issue that is already being addressed in three pending legal cases.

Though Rep. Ted Strickland has joined in on the request, the effort has been led by Richard Diamond, a vocal opponent to longtime Superintendent Lloyd Evans and parent of a child with disabilities in the school district.

Sixty-nine signatures were turned in on a petition asking the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Education to step in, citing a host of allegations, most of which have not been substantiated or are part of three pending legal cases.

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“We know that over the years, parents have asked the Ohio Department of Education and the Justice Department for help but, until now, nothing has happened,” Diamond said in a written release distributed by Columbus attorney Mike Moore, who also represents the three families in the pending legal cases.

Three years ago, Brent and Amanda Unroe filed a lawsuit against the board, claiming Brent Unroe was unlawfully fired from his job as a special education teacher and that their adopted African-American special needs children were discriminated against.

School officials have always denied the allegations and have said in the past that Brent Unroe was terminated for insubordination and inappropriately handling students.

The Unroe case is scheduled for trial next week in U.S. District Court in Cincinnati.

Through Moore, two other families have also filed lawsuits against the board. Brenda Mulkey and Shara Jenkins claim their diabetic children were discriminated against.

Trial dates have not yet been scheduled in those cases.

School officials have also denied any wrongdoing in all these cases. Evans said he is not aware of any basis for these claims and thinks the real motivation is far less altruistic.

“I think this is a political action group just out to get someone,” he said.

In fact, Evans said he thinks the district had done the exact opposite of the discrimination allegations.

“We have erected additional special education units to take care of handicapped kids,” Evans said. When the district was building new schools a few years ago, the district funded more classrooms for special education than the state had allocated funds for.

The petition and Strickland’s letter ask for an immediate and thorough investigation of the administration and the allegations.

“More than 50 of my constituents signed a letter that raises disturbing questions about the RHLSD administration’s treatment of minority students with disabilities,” Strickland said in his letter. “The letter cites instances of physical abuse, intimidation and failure to cooperate with basic administrative requests.

Evans said he welcomes any agency to take a closer look at the district.

“I have no problem with anyone investigating,” he said. “I think we are doing things in a proper manner and certainly not discriminating against kids.”