The Central School Board went behind closed doors Monday night but took no action on a $750,000 settlement offer from the family of a 14-year-old girl whom a judge in October ordered re-enrolled in Central High after the school kicked her out for allegedly not living in Central.
After the meeting, Superintendent Michael Faulk said he updated board members on the case, including informing them of the settlement offer. He said it’s up to the family now if they want to keep pursuing the matter.
“It’s really their move,” he said.
The girl’s father, Billy Burkette, said Central has failed to live up to promises to catch up their daughter, who suffers from cerebral palsy. He said she normally makes B’s and C’s but flunked some classes her first semester of ninth grade.
“Basically, she’s two months behind everyone else, and (Central has) made no effort to get her caught up,” Burkette said.
Faulk said that from the beginning, the girl has had the opportunity to use the system’s online “credit recovery program.”
“That’s what we do for everybody who needs to catch up,” he said.
Burkette said online classes, however, are insufficient. He said his daughter needs extra face-to-face tutoring from educators.
The $750,000 in damages sought by the family was arrived at after their attorney, Jill Craft, researched damages paid out in comparable cases; Burkette said $750,000 is on the low end of those cases. He said if the School Board doesn’t act, then he will be forced to return to court.
“We wanted to give them an opportunity to do the right thing first,” he said.
In October, state District Judge Todd Hernandez sided with the Burkettes after holding a lengthy hearing in the case. Hernandez ordered Central to let the girl, named “DB” in court papers, back into ninth grade, which she’d barely started. The School Board opted not to appeal Hernandez’s ruling.
The popular Central school district has repeatedly tightened its residency requirements through the years as its enrollment has ballooned, straining its capacity. Those requirements may be tightened again. Faulk said school attorneys are looking into new ways to try to prevent people from outside the district from enrolling in Central schools.
Through the years, Central has repeatedly questioned the Burkettes about whether they live in Central. The Burkette family say they’ve lived in Central for decades. Mother Tonya Burkette is a graduate of Central High, and the couple enrolled their three children in Central schools in 2008, a year after the school district gained independence from the East Baton Rouge Parish school district. Each year, like all families, they turn in paperwork to prove their residency, including utility bills, a copy of their lease and a voter registration card.
This year, the school system hired outside investigators to look deeper into the residency status of Central students. Faulk concluded the Burkettes actually live in Slaughter in East Feliciana Parish, and had “DB” dropped from Central High rolls on Aug. 20.
In court papers, Central said it found that the father, Billy Burkette, is registered to vote in East Feliciana Parish and years ago ran for elective office in that parish. A school system employee also testified that she’d followed the father taking his daughter to work one day from an address in Slaughter.
The Burkettes, however, supplied Judge Hernandez with evidence that the family resided in Central, including Tonya Burkette’s voter registration ID with their Central address, persuading the judge that they had supplied Central all that it required to prove residency.
Billy Burkette claims Central is going after his daughter because she suffers from cerebral palsy, requiring accommodations the school system has been reluctant to provide. He also said Faulk doesn’t like him personally because he’s tried unsuccessfully to get Central to highlight Native American history and traditions; Burkette is chairman of the Louisiana Band of Choctaw tribe.