Stories and Grievances: Special Education
Forsyth County, Georgia, Special Education Teacher Sharon Purdie Sues After Ed Officials Retaliate Against Her For Helping Kids
Sharon Purdie contends her shift to director of special projects this fall was not a lateral change, as the school system has maintained, but rather an unwanted "demotion" aimed at punishing her for helping parents successfully sue the school district. Terry Baradine, a founder of the Parent/Teacher Coalition, spoke about acts of abuse upon disabled children in this school system, retaliation on ethical employees, and the many teachers who are afraid to speak out in their own defense due to this retaliation.
School system feud lands in court: Deposed special ed director seeks financial damages, old job back
By Lara Moore, Staff Writer, Forsyth County News
The Forsyth County school system finds itself embroiled in another lawsuit over its special needs program, with the most recent legal challenge coming from the department's former director.
Sharon Purdie contends her shift to director of special projects this fall was not a lateral change, as the school system has maintained, but rather an unwanted "demotion" aimed at punishing her for helping parents successfully sue the school district.
In the suit, filed earlier this month in Fulton County Superior Court, Purdie seeks a return to her former job, compensation for lost wages and punitive damages from the school system and then-superintendent Paula Gault.
Purdie, a veteran educator who lives in Alpharetta, was reassigned Sept. 4 to director of special projects after heading up Forsyth's special education department for more than four years.
Purdie has also asked for a jury trial and seeks attorney's fees and compensatory damages, to be determined by jurors.
Depositions could get under way early next year.
At the heart of the legal challenge is the school system's response to Purdie's open records request in November.
Purdie, in a legal claim filed Dec. 13, said she had asked to see "every e-mail communication" between eight school system employees, including Gault, Mary Harwell, associate superintendent of teaching and learning, and Candace Norton, director of human resources.
The request, made Nov. 5, also included: Jeff Zoul, principal of Otwell Middle School: Paul West, assistant director of exceptional students; and Ginny Smiley, director of the Piedmont Learning Center.
Also affected were Beth Holder and Laura Link, who work in administration at Otwell.
Purdie wanted all e-mails between these people between Aug. 1, 2006, and Nov. 5, 2007.
According to the school system's response, that request would involve sifting through more than 70,000 e-mails.
The district's Gainesville-based lawyer, Phil Hartley, said the e-mails need review because some contain private student and personnel information, which the system cannot release.
Hartley estimated the time to retrieve and organize those communications would cost $45,000.
"It would take literally hundreds of days to review all of these," Hartley said.
"It's important to know that in no way are we refusing to supply the records," said Hartley, adding that the substantial cost of Purdie's request should not fall on taxpayers.
According to Purdie's claim, the trouble began after she advised local parents of special needs students how to contact the Office of Civil Rights.
Gault, who retired as superintendent earlier this month, reportedly was not pleased with that development.
The parents, at least two of whom have sued or lodged complaints against the district, maintain school system staff abused or neglected their special needs children.
In May 2006, Amy Wilbourne, a teacher at Otwell Middle School, filed a federal lawsuit against the school system. At last check, depositions were ongoing in that matter.
She contends she was reprimanded after leaving her classroom to attend to the needs of her special needs son, who attended another school in the district.
In August of this year, Dennis and Lisa Jarrard filed a complaint against the school system with the Office of State Administrative Hearings, or OSAH.
In their compliant, the couple maintained their special needs son was emotionally and physically abused by school system staff.
Rather than contest the matter, and to avoid a potentially costly and time-consuming lawsuit, the school system agreed to a $100,000 settlement with the Jarrards.
Lisa Jarrard has said she thinks it was Purdie's counsel that resulted in a "demotion."
Purdie's situation has drawn the attention of others in the community.
At an emotional tribute in December, the local Republican Party honored Purdie for her service to the community and special needs students. At the time, Purdie vowed to not give up.
"I will be back," she said. "There is nothing wrong or tainted in doing what's right, the right thing for kids."
Whether what she did was right is a matter of contention.
According to court documents, "Gault told Purdie that, because Purdie had informed the parents of these rights, Purdie would not be allowed to continue in her position."
The documents go on to say that "director of special projects" did not previously exist. Furthermore, "Purdie was removed from the superintendent's cabinet and was assigned to a position with no job description and no duties."
Purdie's attorney, Matt Billips, said Gault reassigned Purdie with malice and without consent of the Board of Education.
As a result of Gault's action, the complaint contends, Purdie was hospitalized.
Hartley said he was "not at liberty to get into discussion about personnel matters." The attorney, however, is confident that Gault has a clear conscience.
"Clearly, Mrs. Gault denies wrongful action," Hartley said.
The complaint states that Gault shifted Purdie without school board consent. The board, however, did approve Purdie's shift in personnel recommendations at its Sept. 13 called meeting.
As for the duties of special projects director, neither Hartley nor school officials had much to say.
"I don't know that there is a formal job description," Hartley said.
He added that there was no change in salary for Purdie and her leave time has been paid.
In fact, as Purdie's own legal claim points out, she has been on leave since late September.
Still, Billips said Gault moved Purdie with intent to harm her after she informed families of their legal rights.
"We're looking for a jury to do what it can to help Mrs. Gault understand how wrong this was," he said.
"The jury's award is to educate her own why you don't do this kind of thing to people," said Billips, adding that it's "appropriate given she's an educator."
Billips said he hopes depositions will soon get under way.
E-mail Lara Moore at email@example.com.
Originally published Thursday, December 27, 2007
Forsyth Republicans Honor Sharon Purdie
Purdie was greeted with applause as soon as she entered the room. Her celebration began with a poem written for her by one of her students, who with her caring and support, was able to learn to read and write despite a learning disability...
The Forsyth County Republican Party honored former Special education director Sharon Purdie as the first order of Business in the December 11th regular meeting.
Purdie was greeted with applause as soon as she entered the room. Her celebration began with a poem written for her by one of her students, who with her caring and support, was able to learn to read and write despite a learning disability.
Sharon Purdie recently made headlines when she was replaced in her role as special education director in what some have called a retaliation for standing up against mistreatment of students in the special education system.
(see "Parents ask School Board to Reinstate Sharon Purdie")
"Its a wonderful example of what educators can do, and should be doing" Forsyth Republican Party Chairman Andrew Miller stated. "We wanted to really recognize that tonight"
Parents Ask Forsyth County School Board to Reinstate Sharon Purdie
The Forsyth County school system is calling the change a "lateral move"- The parents are calling it a demotion in retaliation for her advocacy to parents of special needs children...
By Susan Rolfs
On Thursday, September 20, 2007 the Forsyth County school board heard five families share their stories of how Sharon Purdie, former Special Education Director, helped them to resolve the problems they were facing with their children within the Forsyth County school system's special education department. These families believe her willingness to help them is what led to her removal as the Special Education Director. The Forsyth County school system is calling the change a "lateral move"- The parents are calling it a demotion in retaliation for her advocacy to parents of special needs children.
Keith and Lisa Jarrard, a mother and father who have filed a lawsuit against the school system, spoke about their issue regarding the school's abuse to their child. The father stated that there are many good employees and teachers in the Forsyth County school system. However, there was concern over the teachers and employees that do not follow the laws toward special education students and therefore Forsyth County School System should terminate them. The mother added that some of the punishments, such as shoveling horse manure and dog feces are horrendous for a child with special needs to endure.. She questioned the reasoning behind such a punishment.
The parents credit Purdie for helping them understand the process of filing a complaint against the school system for the mistreatment of their child.
Another Parent spoke on how her child has enjoyed school and attributed the success to the highly ethical Special Education Director. She went on to mention that her child will be scarred for life after experiencing unfair treatment by a principal of a middle school in the Forsyth County school system. In this case, Purdie saved the school from a law suit.
Terry Baradine, a founder of the Parent/Teacher Coalition, spoke about acts of abuse upon disabled children in this school system, retaliation on ethical employees, and the many teachers who are afraid to speak out in their own defense due to this retaliation.
Baradine asked for the board members to tell her why the Director of Human Resources (Dr. Candace Norton) did not file ethics complaints on the teachers, administrators, and employees who were abusing these children once she was made aware of these acts of abuse. She stated that Norton failed to do her job in an ethical manner. "Purdie should be reinstated because she was doing her job and following the special education laws that were set before her.” Baradine said. She asked for Purdie's reinstatement and termination of those that do not follow the special education laws."
Georgia Education Advocates of Forsyth County
Subject: SPED director that did the right thing needs your support - Petition link included
On: 9/24/07 at 02:13 PMMessage created by: DrewP
This message has been viewed 392 times and has 20 replies
Please help. Even if you are not from Georgia.
Educators everywhere that do the right thing need to know they have our support and the school system needs to get the message that we, the stake holders, are watching.
Ms. Purdie did what is required of her. She acted ethically and within the objectives of her job. Instead of supporting her actions, the school system removed her from her SPED position after she reported this incident.
Your action on this even if you are not from the state has a far reaching affect for all children. This is the petition link. http://www.petitiononline.com/0928/
This issue needs attention and public support. Our children deserve to be treated with dignity not in the way these students were treated.
I do not even know them, the SPED director nor have anything to do with the school system but I know that when we can send a message like this, it has a wave effect.
Thanks you for caring for our precious and vulnerable children.
Another teacher vs Forsyth
A case of retaliation, harassment and disability discrimination.' This is of national concern-- public school safety.' When is it appropriate for a parent to advocate for their child-- when their safety is at stake.' At what point are we going to stand up and say no more retaliation from Georgia Public Schools.' Yet, they continue to do this ad nauseum.' They use compulsory attendance rules as retalition and DFACS as a method of retaliation too.
People fear school districts because of reprisals.' In this case, Amy Wilbourne, a teacher and parent spoke out about the bullying of her child by another teacher.
The school district proceeded to retaliate on her teaching certificate, without due process. This is a violation of civil rights, a violation of safeguards set by the Federal Statutes under IDEA 2004.' It is time the public wakes up and understands that this can happen to anyone -- general ed and special ed.' There are no safeguards for children in public schools.' Yet, our legislators and Georgia'dept of education'officials continue to turn a blind eye.
The Educrats are playing a game with 'zero tolerance' rules and 'zero tolerance' rules never apply to teachers that use humiliation, or physical abuse in a classroom.' This must stop now.' It is a matter of public interest and concern.' Isn't it time schools publish disclaimers on their doorstep that say-- "Not responsible for education or safety of your child".
For further information Contact Atty. Chris Vance at firstname.lastname@example.org
Forsyth County Parent/Teacher Coalition