IM this article to a friend!

May 7, 2004

Pioneer School cancels student honor roll

From:, CA - May 7, 2004

By James C. Loughrie
Sentinel Reporter

HANFORD - Pioneer Elementary School District canceled honor roll for the entire student body in April after an investigation by the United States Department of Education Office for Civil Rights found the district's practice of holding separate public recognition ceremonies in violation of a federal equality act.

The investigation began in December when Shaun Mattos-Cooper filed a complaint that said her daughter, Wendi Cooper, was continually denied admission to the honor roll even though she earned a grade point average above 3.0, the equivalent of a "B" grade point average and the minimum necessary for admission to the list of top students. The district had told Mattos-Cooper that Wendi was not eligible because she was on a modified curriculum.

In a letter addressed to Mattos-Cooper, David Rolandelli, the team leader for the office of civil rights, wrote that having honor roll for regular students and separate academic recognition for students with a modified curriculum "did not provide equal recognition for students with disabilities when compared to the other program."

After Pioneer canceled the honor roll, the office for civil rights closed the case since the school district then did not violate equal access and recognition of students with modified curriculums.

The remedy that made the violation moot, however, was considered drastic, according to Rolandelli in the letter. "OCR (office of civil rights) did not consider the district's decision to be in the best interest of the students, the district's performance recognition program, or compliance with federal statutes."

Linda Brady, who sits on the board of trustees for the Pioneer School District, said "this is not a dead issue," about reinstating the honor roll in the future. At the April 28 trustees' meeting, Brady said a commission would be formed to recommend a new honor roll system.

Unless that commission is formed and finds a solution by the end of this school year, June 11, it will be too late for Wendi Cooper to receive honor roll recognition. An eighth grade student, Cooper will become a student at Hanford West High School in the fall.

Though Cooper received an honor roll certificate in fall 2001, she did not gain the same recognition afterward. Mattos-Cooper had appealed to the Pioneer Board of Trustees to change the honor roll system, but that appeal was rejected. The district had no written rules about whether or not a student with a modified curriculum could receive honor roll recognition until the 2003 school year, when the issue was addressed in the Pioneer handbook.

Wendi Cooper had been almost totally deaf from birth until eight years ago when she received a Cochlear implant in her left ear. Because of the implant, her ability to hear, say and write words has been impaired, her mother said.

She was placed on a modified curriculum that "mainstreams" her with standard classes but also makes certain accommodations to equalize her with her peers. Modified curriculums are special conditions given to students with disabilities, whether physical, mental or learning, to make school equal.

Pioneer students who earned a 3.0 grade point average or above received recognition in a schoolwide assembly and were given a certificate stating they made the honor roll.

Students on a modified curriculum received a certificate of academic achievement in a separate ceremony in their classrooms.

After learning about the board of trustees decision to cancel honor roll, Katy Cooper, Wendi's sister, began circulating a petition among her schoolmates asking to bring back the honor roll.

The letter to Mattos-Cooper from the office of civil rights states that the Pioneer District was offered alternatives other than ending honor roll.

Rolandelli wrote, "OCR considers this action to be drastic, and in no way reflective of the proposals and suggestions this office discussed with the district as a means for obtaining compliance."

The Sentinel attempted to ask John Webster, superintendent for the Pioneer Elementary School District, why the honor roll was canceled, but he did not return calls seeking comment.

(This reporter may be reached at

Copyright © 2004 Pulitzer Central California Newspapers. All Rights Reserved.