OXFORD – Christine Shelly has gone from being one of the biggest fans of the Oxford Area School District to filing a grievance with the PA Dept. of Education. In the wake of the reinstatement of Oxford High School Principal David Madden after a three-month suspension, Shelly and other parents as well as area special education advocates are seeing the education experience at the High School in a different light, and some are asking for Madden’s resignation or removal.
Shelly’s son Todd is bright and eager to learn, but hampered by the effects of cystic fibrosis and Addison’s disease. He was too ill to begin school until second grade, and then attended just two hours a day, completing the rest of his work at home.
Shelly explains that through eighth grade, teachers and administrators were extremely supportive, sending his work home so he could keep up with his classmates even though he was physically forced to miss many days of school. She even remembers district superintendent Raymond Fischer (who was then principal at Elk Ridge School) bringing class work and books to her home for Todd and spending time with him.
As Todd entered high school, Shelly found that the situation changed, with no school assignments being made available to him during his hospital stays and home confinements. “We hounded the school with no less than three e-mails a week begging for work. Again, our pleas went unanswered and Todd suffered under the strain of his diseases while trying his best to get an education,” she said.
Shelly explained that given her experience with the district in the younger grades, she was surprised at how the environment changed when he entered high school. “After four years of a very long struggle with the principal of Oxford High School in order to get my son an education, I was glad he graduated,” Shelly said.
It was after Madden’s suspension, when stories from other students with IEPs (Individual Education Profiles) began to circulate, that Shelly began to wonder what was at the root of he son’s problems at the high school. Allegations leveled in the news media included describing students inappropriately, including calling one a psychopath. “When I saw the other little boy’s story it made me cry,” Shelly said. “If he said this about this kid, what might he have said about mine?”
Shelly filed a right-to-know request trying to find out what Madden may have said about her son via e-mail in the past four years. What she found prompted her to file the grievance with the department of education
Although Shelly is unable to comment publicly about the charges she has leveled in her grievance, she believes her concerns are well founded. “If you look at the educator’s code of conduct it’s pretty clear,” she said. “I don’t want to see this happen to anybody else.
Shelly believes that the atmosphere created by the principal has contributed to the way special education students are treated at the high school. Todd has graduated and will be heading to college in the fall, but Shelly feels it is important to bring accountability to the district.
“I am hoping for Dr. Madden to step aside and do the morally correct thing for the school district,” Shelly said. “I can’t help thinking, would my child’s educational experience have been different?”
As of Thursday, the school district had not received official word that a grievance has been filed.