MANSFIELD – One of seven Mansfield Integrated Learning Center seniors who was not able to graduate over the weekend has brought a lawsuit against Mansfield City Schools for $5 million.
Student Stanley Darell Brown's mother, Jumille Franklin, filed a lawsuit against the district and Superintendent Brian Garverick on Friday, alleging Brown was wrongfully withheld from graduating and was discriminated against based on his race, according to a complaint filed with the U.S. Northern District Court of Ohio.
The court denied emergency relief to allow Brown to participate in the graduation ceremony.
Four days before graduation, Brown said the district refused to accept credits for nine courses he completed at MILC this year, one of which he took as a part of a summer school program. Since early February, the district has been investigating the summer school program after allegations surfaced of academic fraud, grade scrubbing, failing to keep attendance records and student-teacher conflicts of interest.
Seven district employees remain on paid administrative leave related to the investigation.
Of the 12-person MILC senior class, Brown was one of seven who did not graduate Saturday. Another was a basketball player who was found ineligible to play in February because of a missing grade at MILC, a move that ultimately resulted in the basketball team being stripped of its one-day-old Ohio Cardinal Conference title.
A star football player taking courses at MILC also did not graduate.
District spokesman Larry Gibbs said non-graduating seniors either did not have the 20.5 credits required to graduate or did not pass all of their Ohio Graduation Tests. Their ineligibility was "not connected to the investigation," he said.
"To the best of my knowledge, that's true," he said. "They just didn't meet the requirements."
But Brown's lawsuit suggests otherwise.
Brown claims that in February Garverick "abruptly" locked him out of all PLATO courses for two months without explanation and later accused him of cheating, according to the complaint. PLATO is an online learning system the district uses to help students recover credits.
"Garverick further alleged that Brown was in 'cahoots' with Mansfield teacher Todd Hoovler in cheating the system," the complaint stated.
Garverick said he's been advised by the district's attorney, Jim Burns, not to comment on pending litigation. The district's investigation is ongoing.
Hoovler was among five district teachers placed on paid administrative leave at the start of the investigation. Others on leave include teachers Cantina Mitchell, Michelle Crump, Jacqueline Lewis and Stacey Prochazka, MILC principal Robert Singleton and grant administrator Terese Terrell.
Hoovler, who works in the middle school, never taught Brown this year, but did coach him in soccer. Both Hoovler and Brown denied the allegations, according to the complaint.
Brown's lawyer, Edward Gilbert of Akron, said Garverick refused to elaborate about how Brown and Hoovler were cheating.
"He assumed that because (Brown) was a young black kid, he could not have passed," Gilbert said Monday. "He thought the only way a black kid could get through is to cheat.
"It's a lie. We will show it's a lie," Gilbert said.
Garverick said Monday that his "actions and career speaks for itself."
A News Journal investigation of emails exchanged among district officials previously showed that certain employees were concerned that MILC students were being allowed to look up answers on their cellphones or computers and complete work that didn't satisfy their credits. Teachers were accused of changing failing grades to passing.
Brown had been using the PLATO system for four years, the last two of which he completed entirely at MILC, according to the complaint. None of the course credits for the first three years of work were denied, he said.
But this year, the school decided at the last minute not to accept nine grades, including As in Algebra II and Geometry B, Bs in Geometry A, Biology and Algebra 2B, a C in personal finance, a D in U.S. Government and Fs in Chemistry and Algebra I, according to the complaint.
Brown passed all five sections of the OGT, the complaint stated.
Aside from "changing the rules" without notice to keep Brown from graduating, a violation of Brown's constitutional rights, Gilbert claims the district discriminated against Brown because of race. More than 90 percent of students attending MILC are black, the complaint said.
"MILC is generally reserved for the African-Americans and poor whites," the complaint stated.
Now, not only did Brown miss out on the right of passage of walking at his high school graduation, but he faces having to retake the courses, which cost about $150 each and could take about a year to complete, Gilbert said. Brown's mother, Franklin, said she can't afford to send him back to school.
"It's bad what the superintendent is doing to African-American students down there," Gilbert said. "This case is far from over."
Thirty Mansfield Senior High seniors also didn't graduate over the weekend because of missed credits and OGT problems, Gibbs said. Gibbs said he thinks the spike in denied graduations may be the result of a new state mandate that requires students to have four math credits.
"They'll have a chance to make those up over the summer," Gibbs said.
Credit recovery classes begin June 16 and take six weeks to complete. Another commencement will be held for those graduates Aug. 21.
Source: Mansfield News Journal / Gannett: http://www.mansfieldnewsjournal.com/article/20140602/NEWS01/306020021/MILC-student-who-didn-t-graduate-sues-district?nclick_check=1