With Coffee County Schools paying $200,000 for a settlement involving a child with special needs, school officials are now focusing on avoiding such lawsuits in the future.
The money for the settlement will come out of the schools’ unassigned fund balance and will not be covered by insurance. The Coffee County Commission voted Sept. 10 to approve using the funds for the settlement.
Dr. Charles Lawson, who has served as director of Coffee County Schools since July, said school officials are now working to make sure such situations won’t happen again.
The focus is now on training to ensure children and families are always treated appropriately.
“The situation did not necessarily involve any single employee in the district,” Lawson said. “No jobs were terminated as a result of this lawsuit.
“The departments within the district that were involved have researched proper protocols, acted on advice of legal counsel, and evaluated channels of communication in order to prevent similar situations in the future. Coffee County Schools will always endeavor to do what is best for the students in this community.”
On Monday, Aug. 12, the school board voted to approve an amendment to the county schools’ budget to cover the $200,000 settlement.
“We don’t have any choice,” school board member Pat Barton said at the Aug. 12 meeting. “We have to do it…we will have to be cutting a check, and we will be in trouble if we aren’t on time cutting that check.”
Insurance will not pay for this settlement – the funds will come out of the county schools’ budget.
“I am troubled by incompetence costing us this amount of money,” Barton said.
The lawsuit stems from refusing admittance to a child with special needs, according to Barton.
The decision to refuse admittance was made by the previous director of schools LaDonna McFall.
McFall did not make the school board aware of the situation, said Barton.
Board members learned about the situation from Chuck Cagle, the school board’s attorney.
“We were advised by our attorney to agree to the settlement or it could potentially cost us more,” Barton said.
The lawsuit was filed with the Tennessee Department of Education, according to Cagle.
“All the records in this matter are covered under three different sections of federal law and they are all deemed very confidential, particularly since this is a special needs child,” Cagle said on Aug. 14.
The terms and conditions, except the amount of the settlement, are confidential.
“The lawsuit was filed with the State Department of Education – all special ed lawsuits are filed with the State Department of Education,” Cagle said.