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No F’s Allowed? Teacher Sues School

BATON ROUGE (CN) - A fourth-grade teacher sued her principal, superintendent and school board, saying they prohibited teachers from giving students Fs, even if they deserved it. She claims the principal told fourth-grade teachers "they could not, under any circumstances, assign any student any grade lower than 60 percent when averaging a student's grade".

She says the stress from "fear of being written up for insubordination or other baseless reasons" gave her heart palpitations that caused blackouts.

Sheila Goudeau sued the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board in Federal Court.

Goudeau says that Louisiana law "prevents any school board member, principal, or other administrative staff members of the school or central staff of a parish or city school board from attempting, directly or indirectly, to influence, alter, or otherwise affect the grade received by a student from his teacher except as specifically permitted by law."

Grading of classroom performance has traditionally been a sacrosanct right of the teacher, and the grade book is the teacher's chief line of defense from irate parents, administrators and school boards.

Goudeau says she developed a serious heart condition while teaching fourth grade at Riveroaks Elementary School after Principal Sholanda Shamlin forced teachers to violate the law by giving fourth-graders D grades even if they earned Fs.

Goudeau says she's been a teacher for 20 years. She says the district's longtime policy had been that if a student earned a grade of zero to 69 percent, the student received an F. A grade of 70 to 77 percent qualified for a D.

That ended, Goudeau clams, when Shamlin told the fourth-grade teachers in a meeting that "they could not, under any circumstances, assign any student any grade lower than 60 percent when averaging a student's grade."

Goudeau claims that "to rationalize and validate her grading policy," Shamlin used an example of a C student who received a 38 percent grade on a test.

Since a 38 would make it hard for the student to climb back to a C average, Shamlin said, the child should be given a D on the test, "disregarding the fact that the student did not earn a D," according to the complaint.

Goudeau says that at that meeting, Shamlin "adamantly directed the fourth grade teachers to assign a D to students who were definitely not going to pass fourth grade and not to fail a student who has even the slightest chance of passing the LEAP test." (The Louisiana Educational Assessment Program.)

Goudeau says Shamlin insisted that even students who were extremely poor academically should never receive an F grade, as they might pass the LEAP test during the summer if they fail to pass it during the school year.

Goudeau says she complied with Shamlin's policy, "even though she had verbally expressed that she did not agree with the policy or want to give passing grades to failing students."

She says that though she was forbidden from assigning failing grades, she recorded in her grade book the grade the student actually earned, rather than giving them artificial grades, as directed by Shamlin.

She says she was "seriously concerned and suffered from anxiety over falsifying her grade book at the direction" of the principal, and suffered "constant fear of being written up for insubordination or other baseless reasons."

She claims the "illegal alteration of students' grades misled the affected students and their parents into thinking they were passing and obtaining the required skills to proceed to fifth grade, when in reality those students were neither passing nor obtaining the requisite skills needed for the fifth grade."

Because she objected to Shamlin's intrusion into her work as a teacher, and told her that her policy violated state law, Goudeau says, Shamlin retaliated by "harassing and threatening her."

Goudeau says she filed a grievance about the illegal grading policy and the harassment, and Shamlin retaliated again, by, among other things, "charging into petitioner's classroom unannounced on numerous occasions and berating petitioner in front of a classroom full of her students for no rational reason."

She claims Shamlin told her "to shut up and not open her mouth again" during a meeting attended by all of the school's fourth-grade teachers.

The stress culminated in heart palpitations and blackouts, Goudeau says.

Goudeau claims that her cardiologist believes her heart condition is a direct result of the stress and anxiety she suffered at the hands of Shamlin. She adds that she's lost more than 30 pounds because of the stress.

Goudeau claims the superintendent and School Board knew of Shamlin's illegal grading policy. She says that during her grievance proceeding, Superintendent John Dilworth upheld Shamlin, stating that Goudeau had "failed to adhere to the Board-approved grading scale".

But that scale itself was illegal, Goudeau says.

She seeks punitive damages for reckless and deliberate indifference, and violations of state law and federal civil rights. She is represented by Craig Watson of Baton Rouge.

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