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CA School District Sued over 'C+' in Chemistry

A former Albany High student in California is suing the school district because of the grade his chemistry teacher gave him last year, in a tangled case of family hopes and conflicts with a teacher and school administrators.

A former high school student and his mother are suing the in Albany, CA over a C+ grade the student received in 2011.

The grade, they said, did not reflect the student's academic achievements and, instead, was the result of intentional efforts by the teacher to ruin the boy's future.

Bowen Bethards, 17, and his mother, Laureen, filed a lawsuit last month against former chemistry teacher Peggy Carlock, . (The complaint is attached to this story as a PDF.)

Albany High School Principal Ted Barone and  are also named in the suit.

According to the formal complaint—acquired by Albany Patch after a reader's tip—the suit is centered on a C+ that Carlock gave Bethards when he was a sophomore in her chemistry class in 2010-11.

“Here’s the bottom line: This kid earned an A, by anybody’s standards,” said Bethards’s attorney, Daniel Horowitz.

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People referred to in this article:

Bowen Bethards, 17, the student who is suing the school district

Laureen Bethards, mother of former student Bowen Bethards, suing the district with her son

Peggy Carlock, former chemistry teacher

Daniel Horowitz, the Bethards's attorney

Ted Barone, Albany High School principal

Marla Stephenson, superintendent of the Albany Unified School District

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Bethards, now a rising senior at Berkeley High, has dreamed for years of attending a prestigious pre-med program after high school and, according to the complaint, Carlock knew this.

In the complaint, Bethards says “Carlock was aware, at all relevant times, that a ‘C+’ in chemistry would effectively destroy plaintiff Bowen Bethards’ chances of being accepted to either of his two colleges of choice, as well as his chances of getting a scholarship to attend to the programs of his choice.”

Because of the grade and the events described between May 2011 and January 2012, the plaintiffs say the district violated Bethards' civil rights and caused him severe physical and emotional suffering, and damage to his academic reputation, his chances of getting into college and his future employment opportunities.

Carlock declined to comment about this story. District officials referred Albany Patch to its attorney in this matter, but the attorney did not return calls or emails.

Laureen Bethards referred a request for information to her attorney.

How the dispute began

According to Bethards' version of events, detailed in the complaint, the dispute began when he missed school May 27, 2011.

Bethards claims he was absent because he was at the Contra Costa County Superior Courthouse for the adoption hearing of his younger sister; the complaint includes a photo of the family in court that day.

The complaint states that, as of May 27, Bethards’ grade in chemistry was an A+ or, numerically, about 106 percent. 

That day, Carlock’s class performed a lab. Bethards says he told Carlock he would miss class, and that his mother also informed the attendance office of the absence.

Making up the missed lab period

The plaintiffs say Bethards and Carlock agreed he would make up the missed lab May 31. But when Bethards arrived, he said Carlock told him he could not make up the lab and that “she was instead going to fail him.”

In a letter to Stephenson, dated Aug. 11, Bethards’ mother said she called the school to report the incident. But when she received no response, she went to campus to meet with administrators.

According to the letter, after Bethards’ mother complained to an assistant principal, who threatened to call security to remove her from campus, she went to Principal Barone, who assured her the situation would be resolved.

However, the plaintiffs say, on June 1, the day of the final exam, Carlock intimidated and harassed Bethards for complaining to the administration. 

The dispute continues

The next morning, Bethards’ mother says she went back to Barone, who again assured her the administration would resolve the issue. She met with Carlock later that day, according to the complaint, and arranged for her son to make up the missed lab by grading students’ papers for her.

Bowen Bethards arrived to grade papers at the prearranged time but, according to the complaint, Carlock did not show, nor did she provide a grading matrix for Bethards to use. As such, Bethards says he could not complete the grading.

Later in June, after school was out, according to the complaint, Bethards' mother saw on the school website that her son had lost points for the lab he missed—and received a failing grade overall for labs that semester—and that he had failed his final, leaving him with a C+ semester grade.

No access

Bethards’ mother says she wrote to the school district in late June, and several times afterward, to request access to her son’s graded chemistry lab work and his final exam, but that access was never granted.

In August, Bethards’ mother wrote a letter to Superintendent Stephenson, describing her version of events and asking for her son to be able to make up the missed lab and retake the final exam, and for the to review the matter.

Stephenson wrote back in October, denying the request for Bethards to make up the missed lab and retake the final, because "it gives unfair advantage for one student to make up credit missed in a prior year and re-take a final exam that is given only once to all other student."

In that letter, Stephenson also said she had conducted an investigation and spoken to Carlock, and that she had been unable to substantiate the claims because, as of then, Stephenson had not been able to speak to Bethards himself.

Off to court

In November, Bethards’ mother filed a government claim against the , in which she claimed more than $10,000 in damages.

She wrote in that document that her son had sustained “severe emotional distress, physical pain and suffering, and severe and continuing damage to claimant’s academic reputation and standing, viability as a college applicant, damage to his ability to obtain scholarships for college, and damage to his future earning capacity” because of Carlock, Barone, the Stephenson and the district.

The school district rejected the claim in January and, shortly after that, Stephenson and Bethards’ mother corresponded by email about the matter.

'B' grade not good enough

According to the emails included in the complaint, Stephenson said Carlock would change the grade to a B if Bethards’ mother wrote a note to excuse his “absences for the makeup days during final exam week.”

Bethards’ mother responded by saying she would excuse the absences, but said her son had earned an A+ in the class, not a B.

In those emails, Stephenson also said Bowen Bethards' final exam could not be located. In the complaint, Bethards says “Carlock deliberately and maliciously hid and/or destroyed” the exam.

The complaint also says the refusal, by Carlock and the district, to allow Bethards to make up his work violated Education Code Section 42805, which states that a student with an excused absence “shall be allowed to complete all assignments and tests missed during the absence.”

Horowitz compared the situation to a boss refusing to give a worker his paycheck.

'A type of theft'

“It’s a type of theft,” Horowitz said. “When you earn something, and nobody disputes that you earned it, and somebody takes it away, that’s theft.”

Horowitz described Bethards as “a straight-A student,” and the complaint includes several documents showing Bethards’ academic standing.

According to his transcript, Bethards' C+ in Carlock’s class was the only time during his two years at Albany High that he received a grade lower than a B.

After the dispute, Bethards began attending Berkeley High as a junior; a transcript of the 2011-12 school year shows all A's for his semester grades.

According to the complaint, the district changed Bethards’ grade to a B earlier this year, after the email correspondence between Stephenson and Bethards' mother. But, in addition to monetary damages, Bethards is requesting the court to order the district to change her son's grade to an A+.

His dream

“He’s an A student, and his dream for the last three years is to go to UCLA, and this teacher doesn’t have the right to take it away from him,” Horowitz said.

The next scheduled meeting between the two parties is in September for a case management conference.

Horowitz said Bethards wants the grade changed and the situation resolved before he has to submit college applications near the end of 2012.

“If you go to trial, then all the harm is done to the kid’s life, and he doesn’t get to go to the college of his dreams,” Horowitz said.

Editor's note: This article by Albany Patch in Albany, GA.

Chem teacher August 01, 2012 at 05:28 PM
As a chemistry teacher in southern ca. I read this w interest. I to have been threatened with a suit by 2 moms , who were lawyers , for giving a 0 and u in citizenship to their 2 honors students. The 2 students , who were in different periods , had copied word for word a reading assignment. That of coarse was cheating and when I had to call the parents and tell them one parent cursed me out for doing this to her daughter . The zero didn't really effect the grade by the end of the semester it was the u in citizenship. That meant they were not going to be accepted in NHS (national honors society). This was a big fight they did everything they could , even contacting NHS, to change the u. It required me having to respond to their complaint all the way to the point of them filing in court. I was also vilified by the students as having ruined their futures . This statement is very telling for me "absences for the makeup days during finals week". Most teachers have a policy for makeup of labs and this sounds like the teacher had a time for all students to make up any lab during final and the student did not show. This is a real lack of respect it takes a great deal of time to set up and clean up chemistry labs so to have student come during finals week helps cut down on a lot of work. The way I see the article this was a problem parent who tried to use the administrators to force the teachers hand to get her way. My take is that the district/ teacher have a very different story.

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