Oxford Area principal is again the focus of a complaint regarding a special-education 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: August 16, 2012

The family of a former special-education student at Oxford Area High School who claimed work was withheld from the teen when he was too sick to go to school has filed a complaint with the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission.

The commission suggested the action after learning of the teen's allegations against his school's principal.

The family filed a complaint last month with the state Department of Education against high school principal David Madden, who they say blocked their son from getting assignments during his frequent absences.

It was the second such complaint against Madden, who was suspended for four months after he sent e-mails and text messages calling a bipolar student a "psycho" and comparing him to Lee Harvey Oswald and other assassins. He also complained that disabled students, who he said were "the guilty ones," had more rights than traditional students, or "the innocent."

Human Relations Commission spokeswoman Shannon Power said the commission contacted the parents of Todd Shelly, who graduated in June, after reading about his case in a newspaper to let them know they "may have a remedy under state law if they are interested in filing a complaint."

The agency enforces the state's antidiscrimination laws and promotes equal opportunity.

Chrissy Shelly, Todd's mother, said she filed the complaint Monday. The commission lawyer who contacted her Friday, she said, "felt there was a definite need to reach out to us on Todd's behalf."

Todd Shelly, 18, has cystic fibrosis and missed large chunks of time in school because of frequent lung infections, requiring homebound instruction. His mother, along with one of Todd's tutors, said it was a struggle to get teachers to send homework so Todd would not fall behind. As a result, he failed some courses and was in danger of not graduating.

When he was in school, he got top grades, said his mother, who has a son going into 10th grade at Oxford.

E-mails that Chrissy Shelly requested last month under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act show that Madden grew increasingly frustrated with her repeated requests for more work for her son and that he mocked her to a staff member.

Superintendent Raymond Fischer called the e-mails "embarrassing" and recommended that Madden be replaced after the earlier e-mails about the bipolar student became public in February. But the board voted, 6-3, to suspend Madden for four months and remove him from supervising special education students. He resumed his post July 1.

Yesterday, Fischer said he planned to recommend that the Chester County Intermediate Unit provide two special education supervisors, one for the district and one for the high school, to fill in for Madden and Oxford's former special education director, who resigned in June over the principal's attitude toward special education students.

Madden "has caused a lot of upheaval in our district," said Fischer, who has been at Oxford for 22 years. "What really bothers me is when we're not looking at what's best for children."

Shelly said she believes "there was a purposeful intent to block this child's education. His choice of colleges was impacted, his ability to get scholarships. He was denied from York College because he didn't have Spanish. That was not provided."

Todd Shelly plans to study at West Chester University.

If the Human Relations Commission investigates, Power said, it will try to reach a settlement between the parties. If no agreement is reached, the commission can issue a legally binding order.

In June, the agency reached a settlement with the Reading School District cementing a five-year plan to address racial problems in the district.

The agency attempts to prevent discrimination problems before they arise, particularly when children are involved, Powers said.

"There's a limited window of opportunity for them to get an education, and if they're being denied an equal opportunity to get an education, that is a problem," she said.

Adding to Oxford's woes were recently released PSSA test scores showing the high school will fail to make Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP), due mostly to declining math scores, and might be subject to corrective action, including school reconstitution, chartering, or privatization.

The high school has never met the AYP standards required by the federal No Child Left Behind act and was placed on Corrective Action I in 2009-10. This is the second year the school was put on Corrective Action II.

Contact Kathy Boccella at 610-313-8123, kboccella@phillynews.com or @kmboccella on Twitter.

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