By JESSIE HORTON
DUBLIN (April 9, 2015) — It began simply enough – a mother passing through her student’s school office on the way to volunteer sees the counselor and asks about her sophomore honor student’s ranking, only to be told it’d changed dramatically from what she and her husband had calculated based on the grades they knew about.
“We’d never had a single issue with the district,” Bonnie Holt said Thursday following a press release from her attorney stating the Holts were calling for an injunction in the calculations of student rankings until a hearing can be held. “We were proud to have our daughter enrolled at Dublin ISD and were active in the district. We never saw this coming and still don’t understand why it’s even come to this.”
The ‘this’ Holt mentions is a motion filed with the Texas Commissioner of Education and a request for a temporary injunction filed in the Erath County 266th Judicial District Court until the commissioner’s ruling is followed. The injunction would prevent Dublin ISD from calculating and issuing class rankings until a fair hearing is held on a matter which the Holt’s attorney, Susan Soto, contends threatens Cheyenne Holt’s senior class rank and possible valedictorian honors.
Soto said the district improperly managed the academic reports and records for Cheyenne during the 2012-2013 school year. In the release, Soto also said though the girl’s parents have attempted to work with Dublin ISD to solve the issues for two years through the district’s grievance proceedings, “DISD continues to drag its feet.”
It’s one of many things the Holts and Dublin ISD can’t agree on. After two years of filing grievances with the school district, the Holts were denied the Level III grievance filed with the district by the school board based on “timeliness,” meaning the Holts had taken too long to file the grievance. When the school board denied hearing their case, the Holts took it to the Texas Education Agency’s Commissioner of Education, Michael Williams.
On January 16, 2015, Williams released his decision on the case. In a ten-page document, he stated, “After due consideration of the record, matters officially noticed, and the foregoing Findings of Fact, in my capacity as Commissioner of Education, I make the following Conclusions of Law:
1. The Commissioner of Education has jurisdiction over this cause under Texas Education Code section 7.057(a)(2)(A).
2. Respondent (DISD) cannot reasonably interpret its grievance policy to require Petitioner (Holts) to file a grievance within 15 days of not receiving a report card, when Respondent’s teacher told Petitioner that the report card was delayed to add extra credit.
3. An informal grievance policy that encourages a student or parent to meet first with a teacher, principal, or other campus administrator to discuss the problem tolls the timeline for filing a formal grievance until the conclusion of the informal grievance process.
4. Petitioner engaged in the informal grievance process under Respondent’s local policy and timely filed a formal grievance within 15 days after the conclusion of the informal grievance process.
5. Petitioner has pled a viable claim that Respondent has failed to adopt or implement policies that meet the requirements of Texas Education Code section 28.022.
6. Petitioner’s appeal should be GRANTED, and the case should be REMANDED to Respondent for further grievance proceedings on the merits of Petitioner’ s claim.”
However, the district has yet to grant a second grievance hearing for the Holts, they said. And that, according to Soto, is exactly why they’re filing the injunction. Both she and the Holts claim the district is taking so long to act in hopes of Cheyenne, who was 15 years old when this began and is now a senior, graduating and the matter being dropped by the family.
“That just won’t happen,” Bonnie said with a passion and tears in her eyes. “We aren’t just doing this for Cheyenne, we’re doing this so that the district and the grade reporting system are held accountable. We don’t want someone else’s child to have to suffer through this.”
The Holts said the district failed their daughter because, even if the zeros (which are the original reason for the drop in ranking, though even the number of zeros has been called into question by both sides of this case) were actually zeros and not misplaced papers that the student had or had not turned in, she did not get the same opportunity to change the grade.
According to the school district’s policy at the time, Cheyenne should have been called out of class and given a “zero report” which she would have been required to have signed and have the teacher sign along with the opportunity to make up the grade, Holt said. The school and the Holts have none of these reports because they were never given, Holt said.
She said state law, as well as the district’s own policy at the time, requires schools to notify parents when a student’s grades drop drastically. However, this wasn’t done, she said. She had to ask the counselor about her daughter’s class rank, who is a member of the National Honor Society and the Phi Beta Kappa Honor Society.
“The school district did not address the family’s concerns appropriately when the family brought their concerns forward on multiple occasions, and it continues to turn a blind eye. With the epidemic of school district errors coming to light, the era of school districts being beyond question must end,” Soto said in the release on Thursday. “School district personnel have an ethical and legal obligation to ensure that student achievement records are accurate and families’ concerns are addressed appropriately. In the weeks since the Commissioner of Education’s remand of the matter back to Dublin ISD, DISD has failed to comply and to hear the Holts’ original grievance on its merits.
“Educators make mistakes like everyone else,” Soto continued, “but the key is to admit the mistake, offer solutions and work to regain trust. Dublin ISD is failing the Holt family in this regard. The failure of the Dublin ISD administration to address the incident has led the family to address the issue in the judicial system. School districts and their employees must be held accountable for their actions, particularly when it comes to academic achievement and class rank.”
Dublin ISD has also filed documents with the court. The district has yet to grant the hearing because they say the first grievance hearing was held on the student’s merits and the grades, not on timeliness, according to court documents from Travis County. School officials cannot speak on ongoing litigation, but have all said they stand behind the district, and eventually the school board’s, decision on the grievances filed by the Holts.
The Holts are frustrated, yes, but Bonnie comes back to her original goal in this case.
“We aren’t out to hurt anyone, we don’t want anyone’s job over this. There was an issue and we want it fixed, we just want it to be made right,” she concluded. “We are asking to be heard, we are asking for a fair investigation, we’re asking for our rights, but mostly, we’re asking for the truth so this doesn’t happen to anyone else’s child in this district, or in any other.”