Another grievance against Oxford Area principal about a disabled student

Principal David Madden of Oxford Area High. Another grievance was filed over disabled students.
Principal David Madden of Oxford Area High. Another grievance was filed over disabled students. (TOM KELLY IV / For The Inquirer)
Posted: July 27, 2012

Another grievance has been filed against the embattled principal of Oxford Area High School, this one by the parents of a disabled student who say David Madden blocked their son from getting assignments and belittled the mother in e-mails.

Chrissy Shelly, whose son Todd suffers from cystic fibrosis, said Madden discriminated against her son by not requiring teachers to follow through on work for him during his frequent absences. As a result, he failed courses and almost didn't graduate.

It's not the first time that families of disabled children have tussled with Madden, whose director of special education, Jenny LeSage, quit last month because, she has said, "he didn't appreciate, understand, or want special-needs students in his building."

In February, Arc of Chester County, which serves the disabled, filed a grievance with the state Department of Education on behalf of another family, alleging that the principal didn't provide an appropriate education for a bipolar student whom he called a "psychopath" in e-mails and compared to famous assassins.

"It feels like a pattern of discrimination," said Shelly, whose son, 18, graduated in June and will attend West Chester University in the fall.

Madden was suspended in March over the earlier e-mails, in which he also complained that special-education students had more rights than "the innocent." He boasted that he was not afraid of lawsuits and that if he ever became superintendent, "I will take it on."

Last month, the board voted, 6-3, to reinstate him, over the objection of many special-education families and of Superintendent Raymond A. Fischer, who called the e-mails "embarrassing."

Calls and e-mails to Madden, Fischer, and School Board President Joseph L. Scheese were not returned.

When Shelly read what Madden wrote about the other student, she said, she was shocked and wondered, "What possibly is being said about my child?"

This week, she found out, after requesting her child's records under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.

Many of the exchanges with teachers and administrators express Madden's annoyance with Shelly, a thorn in his side as she fought for homework for her son, who missed from 70 to 100 days per year because of frequent infections and hospitalizations. Her son's teachers, Shelly said, did not want to modify assignments so that he could make up the huge amount of missed work. As a result, he often got D's and F's.

"When he was in school," she said, "his grades were awesome."

In one e-mail to a teacher, who joked that she wanted to adopt the boy because he must hate his mother, Madden wrote, "He probably does. She is rotten to everyone."

In another he wrote, "Here we go. Everybody hold onto your britches because you are about to feel the wrath of mamma! Good luck."

Frustrated, he wrote, "This is not a fight worth fighting. Our district office is going to continue to give this woman whatever she wants since it is in the IEP. Give the kid an A and save yourself from a heart attack."

IEPs are individual educational plans that schools must provide for all special-education students. The sometimes-costly arrangements can range from homeschooling to providing aides to sending a severely disabled child to private school.

Disagreements over what school districts want to pay for and what parents say their children need often lead to lawsuits.

LeSage, the former director, said she could not comment on the specifics of the grievance, but said schools needed to listen to parents, since they know best what their children need to succeed.

"It's not just being nice, it's our ultimate job," she said. "We should not be in administration or teaching if we are not willing to do that for all children."

One of Todd's homeschool teachers remembered the constant struggle to get him up to speed. The teacher, who asked not to be named for fear of being fired, said that Todd was an A student, but that she had a hard time getting teachers to send homework when he missed school. When she went to the principal, she said, his response was, "Todd doesn't look sick. Why is he being homeschooled?"

Todd, whose life-threatening condition requires him to be hooked up to a machine twice a day to help him breathe, is also susceptible to lung infections. In addition to cystic fibrosis, he also has from Addison's disease, a rare, chronic endocrine disorder.

"I would sit with him while he was on the breathing machine," the teacher said. "He was obviously a sick child."

One of the problems was that when Todd was in school, which he loved, he did not look disabled, said his mother and teacher.

"He was overlooked," the teacher said. "Unfortunately, there are other kids in the district who have obvious disabilities who are also being overlooked."

That's partly why Shelly has filed the grievance, though Todd is out of school and getting ready for college.

"What about those left behind?" she asked.

"I thought I was the only one fighting. I thought it was a personal issue with my family."

In one meeting, she recalled, Madden looked at her son and said, "What do you want me to do, give you straight A's?" Her son replied, "No, Dr. Madden. I simply want to get my work."


Contact Kathy Boccella

at 610-313-8123 or kboccella@phillynews.com.

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