Mother says legislation an alternative if court rejects grading stance

Wednesday, November 28th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

TULSA, Okla. (AP) _ A mother of four says she will pursue federal legislation if the U.S. Supreme Court strikes down a ruling that prohibits students from grading each others papers.

Justices heard oral arguments Tuesday in Kristja Falvo's case against Owasso Public Schools in suburban Tulsa. Falvo objected to students trading papers after her son was ridiculed by other students because of low scores from a learning disability.

The high court could issue a ruling in spring.

Falvo said Wednesday she would lobby Congress for help if the justices overturn a student-grading ban imposed by the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver.

``I think we have a group of individuals in this country who are not protected and that's our children,'' she said.

After students graded her son Philip's papers, he was called ``dummy'' and ``stupid'' because the child's scores were lower than his sixth-grade classmates. Falvo complained throughout her son's sixth-grade year and into the seventh, but teachers continued the practice, she said.

Her son, now a 15-year-old 10th-grader, was once slammed against a locker by one of the classmates who had disparaged him, Falvo said.

She sued in 1998 and lost in U.S. District Court in Tulsa. But the appeals court sided with Falvo in a ruling that focused on whether paper-swapping violates the 1974 Family Education Rights and Privacy Act. The act conditioned federal aid for schools to a guarantee that ``education records'' be kept private.

Owasso schools discontinued the practice of trading papers after the ruling.

``We probably won't continue it again, regardless of the way it goes because it has been controversial in our system,'' Superintendent Dale Johnson said.

But school officials asked the Supreme Court to hear the case because the appeals court ruling affects the release of other student records, he said.

The school no longer releases honor roll information and extracurricular achievements for publication without parental permission for fear of violating the ruling, Johnson said.

The Falvo case has split conservative opinion, but the conservative Rutherford Institute has assisted her.

The Bush administration, National Education Association and other groups support the school district, saying the act was meant to protect privacy of final school grades and did not apply to routine classroom exercises.

``I find it really hard to comprehend that all the information that goes into the final grade is not private but the final grade is private,'' Falvo said.

She said she is not an overly protective mother, but sought legal redress only after repeatedly failing to influence school officials to stop it.

``I'm not there to protect my child against any ridicule,'' she said. ``My children are in sports and we know how difficult that is. What I have a concern about is children being singled out, alienated and harassed. It becomes a matter of survival.''