Student's injury prompts parents to file complaint

June 30, 1992|By Meredith Schlow | Meredith Schlow,Staff Writer

The parents of a former Pine Grove Middle School honor roll student have filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education alleging that Baltimore County school officials were negligent in disregarding doctors' orders after their daughter was injured during a sixth-grade gym class.

The handwritten, 29-page complaint was mailed May 7 to the department's Office for Civil Rights in Philadelphia. In the complaint, Ronald and Arlene Heywood allege that Pine Grove's faculty and administration, as well as county school system administrators, ignored problems that their daughter, Christine, developed in her arms after an injury in gym class.

The Heywoods also claim that officials' disregard for doctors' orders excusing Christine from gym class and from writing for extended periods of time "seriously violated our daughter's safety and recovery."

A spokeswoman for the Department of Education said its investigation of the complaint should be completed in October. If the department and the system cannot resolve the issue, perhaps by having the county develop a policy on what to do in similar future circumstances, then the complaint could affect the county's federal educational funding. However, the spokeswoman said it was unlikely there would be any cuts in federal funding.

Pine Grove Principal John Jedlicka declined to comment on the case.

Mrs. Heywood, who has not filed suit against the school system, says she filed the complaint because she wants to alert other parents to the avenues they can use if their school system is not responsive to their concerns.

"By telling the story, parents will know that they're not alone," she said. "It took me two and a half years to know where to go and how to get help. You have to learn by your own means."

Christine Heywood was 11 when on Dec. 1, 1989, while on the parallel bars during a gymnastics class, she heard something snap inside her chest. She had fractured her sternum.

"I couldn't move my arms or anything . . . I was having trouble breathing," said Christine, now 14.

She has since been diagnosed with thoracic outlet syndrome, a disorder resulting from her damaged sternum. As a result, she cannot write for long periods of time or participate in any sports.

The complaint claims that, despite doctors' orders to the contrary, Christine was not allowed to take a tape recorder to class, was not provided with a student to take notes for her and, on Oct. 23, 1990, was told to spot and help lift other students during gymnastics class. Her work in gym class that day caused permanent damage, and Christine missed the remainder of the school year, according to the complaint.

"She couldn't move," Mrs. Heywood said. "She couldn't bathe herself, feed herself." Mrs. Heywood's repeated attempts to meet with Pine Grove's officials and discuss what the parents considered a disregard for Christine's injuries resulted in the mother's being barred from the school.

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