Discrimination suit may be settled out of court

by Kamariea Forcier

A University student who brought charges of discrimination and retaliation against the Edina school district may be close to settling the case before it goes to trial.
Michelle Gayle, a senior in the College of Liberal Arts, brought the suit on behalf of her daughter, who attended school in the district from 1994 to 1995.
“We’re in the final stages of settlement,” said Gayle. “We’re just waiting to work out the specific details.”
She said one of the stipulations of settlement is that Edina officials admit they discriminated against her daughter. Gayle said this is the first time someone from the school will admit she was right.
“No one has ever come forward to say, ‘yes, this has happened,'” she said.
Gayle filed charges in Hennepin County on Jan. 11, against the Edina school district. Gayle filed the charges because she believed her daughter was the victim of racism, discrimination because of a learning disability, and retaliation. Gayle’s daughter, Tonisha, is bi-racial.
According to the complaint, Gayle enrolled Tonisha as a first-grader in Concord Elementary on Jan. 4, 1994. During enrollment, Gayle requested that her daughter be tested for special education because she was behind in her reading level.
Tonisha’s teacher, Kay Shima, learned that the girl would have been assessed for special education if she had stayed at her previous school. However, Shima intended to return Tonisha to kindergarten instead, according to the complaint.
The following week the school psychologist told Gayle that Tonisha learns differently than white children, and thus was not appropriate for special education, according to the complaint.
The complaint claims that Shima said to another school employee, “I am so tired of this crap with Tonisha. Those people think they can come here and take over and change the school system. I couldn’t stand to see that kid keep coming to my classroom. I just wanted to strangle her.”
In June of 1994, the Minnesota Department of Education determined that the school had failed to identify Tonisha’s special education needs, according to the complaint.
Concord Elementary dropped Tonisha from the 1995-1996 enrollment because staff members heard a “rumor” her family had moved. Gayle believed this was retaliation for her having taken the matter to the Department of Education. She decided to sue the school system.
Two months later, Gayle received a letter from the Minnesota Department of Human Rights stating that the school district probably discriminated against Tonisha in regard to her race and disability.
Gayle’s family now lives in another town. She said Tonisha “is doing great. She’s in the fourth grade and she’s no longer in special ed.”
Gayle said the final settlement should be signed Monday.
“There’s a feeling of relief at having this behind me. I feel sad too; I wish I could have done more. Hopefully, I can be a catalyst in future changes,” she said.