A high school student who was accused of cheating, and consequently given a failing grade on a chemistry test, is suing her school district. The student, now a senior at Lindbergh High School in Renton, Washington, wants the court to order that her grade be changed.
At base, however, the student's mother, Susie, said that the lawsuit is "not about the grade, not about money at all. ... It’s about the accusation of her cheating."
While taking her chemistry final exam in June, the student had raised her hand to ask a question, according to Susie, who requested that The Huffington Post not reveal her last name or her daughter's name. The teacher came over to answer the question and saw a pencil case on the student's desk.
"It was just her standard pencil pouch," her lawyer, Greg McBroom, told HuffPost. The teacher observed some notes in the case and reached down to pick it up. He pulled out the notes, some of which were preparation for the chemistry test, McBroom said.
The student was accused of cheating and was given an F on the exam and a one-day detention. Ultimately, she received a B in the class, McBroom said.
Now the student and her parents are suing the school district in the King County Superior Court, seeking a review the disciplinary process, which included the failed test. Washington state law allows students to ask the trial court to review disciplinary decisions, according to the online Seattle Post-Intelligencer.
According to a report from the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington, students can appeal over disciplinary measures like suspensions and expulsions. For instance, Bethel School District v. Fraser, a case that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1986, fought a suspension over a lewd speech given at a high school assembly. (The student lost.) The report does not mention suing over individual test or class grades.
McBroom said the goal of the current suit is to have the grade raised. He argued that because the grade was given as part of a disciplinary process, it can properly be altered by a court.
Renton School District spokesman Randy Matheson said, "If a student has a concern about a grade ... she challenges that with the teacher. If the teacher doesn't respond as she would like, she can ask for another review by the principal."
In this case, the student and her parents met with the principal and the teacher. The principal upheld the failing grade on the test, finding that the teacher had enough evidence of cheating.
The student then turned to the school board, "which routinely upholds the administration," according to McBroom. The board reviewed the disciplinary process, Matheson said, and found that the principal had done a proper review and the teacher had presented enough evidence. "The school board didn't rule on the grade at all," Matheson said.
In September, the board formally upheld the failing test grade but ruled that the student need not serve the one-day detention and removed that punishment from her record. McBroom called the split decision "very strange."
Matheson, however, said that it "would be quite a precedent" if grades could be changed through trials. "I’m fairly certain what the parents are concerned with is that this is going to impede the student’s ability to get into her college of choice," he said. But colleges would likely not see that she had been accused of cheating, he added, because admissions officers are only sent a student's academic record.
Other than this incident, she has been "a model student," according to McBroom. Susie said that her daughter had "not even a detention of any sort or anything through her whole career. She loves school, absolutely loves school."
Matheson said a Superior Court judge was set to hear the case next April, though McBroom said he is trying to reschedule the hearing for this calendar year.
"It’s her reputation, and it speaks to her character," Susie said. "For your child to feel that strongly and want to stand up for herself, I have to support it. If there ever was a shadow of doubt in my mind, I wouldn’t be supporting her at all."