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'C+' in Chemistry Leads To Lawsuit Against School District

A former Albany High student is suing the school district because of the grade his chemistry teacher, Peggy Carlock, gave him last year, in hopes of getting a court order for the district to change the grade to an A+.

A former student and his mother are suing the over a C+ grade the student received in 2011.

The grade, they said, did not reflect the student's academic achievements and, instead, was the result of intentional efforts by the teacher to ruin the boy's future.

Bowen Bethards, 17, and his mother, Laureen, filed a lawsuit last month against former chemistry teacher Peggy Carlock, . (The complaint is attached to this story as a PDF.)

Albany High School Principal Ted Barone and  are also named in the suit.

According to the formal complaint—acquired by Albany Patch after a reader's tip—the suit is centered on a C+ that Carlock gave Bethards when he was a sophomore in her chemistry class in 2010-11.

“Here’s the bottom line: This kid earned an A, by anybody’s standards,” said Bethards’s attorney, Daniel Horowitz.

Bethards, now a rising senior at Berkeley High, has dreamed for years of attending a prestigious pre-med program after high school and, according to the complaint, Carlock knew this.

In the complaint, Bethards says “Carlock was aware, at all relevant times, that a ‘C+’ in chemistry would effectively destroy plaintiff Bowen Bethards’ chances of being accepted to either of his two colleges of choice, as well as his chances of getting a scholarship to attend to the programs of his choice.”

Because of the grade and the events described between May 2011 and January 2012, the plaintiffs say the district violated Bethards' civil rights and caused him severe physical and emotional suffering, and damage to his academic reputation, his chances of getting into college and his future employment opportunities.

Carlock declined to comment about this story. District officials referred Albany Patch to its attorney in this matter, but the attorney did not return calls or emails.

Laureen Bethards referred a request for information to her attorney.

HOW THE DISPUTE BEGAN

According to Bethards' version of events, detailed in the complaint, the dispute began when he missed school May 27, 2011.

Bethards claims he was absent because he was at the Contra Costa County Superior Courthouse for the adoption hearing of his younger sister; the complaint includes a photo of the family in court that day.

The complaint states that, as of May 27, Bethards’ grade in chemistry was an A+ or, numerically, about 106 percent. 

That day, Carlock’s class performed a lab. Bethards says he told Carlock he would miss class, and that his mother also informed the attendance office of the absence.

The plaintiffs say Bethards and Carlock agreed he would make up the missed lab May 31. But when Bethards arrived, he said Carlock told him he could not make up the lab and that “she was instead going to fail him.”

In a letter to Superintendent Stephenson dated Aug. 11, Bethards’ mother said she called the school to report the incident. But when she received no response, she went to campus to meet with administrators.

According to the letter, after Bethards’ mother complained to an assistant principal, who threatened to call security to remove her from campus, she went to Principal Barone, who assured her the situation would be resolved.

However, the plaintiffs say, on June 1, the day of the final exam, Carlock intimidated and harassed Bethards for complaining to the administration. 

The next morning, Bethards’ mother says she went back to Barone, who again assured her the administration would resolve the issue. She met with Carlock later that day, according to the complaint, and arranged for her son to make up the missed lab by grading students’ papers for her.

Bowen Bethards arrived to grade papers at the prearranged time but, according to the complaint, Carlock did not show, nor did she provide a grading matrix for Bethards to use. As such, Bethards says he could not complete the grading.

Later in June, after school was out, according to the complaint, Bethards' mother saw on the school website that her son had lost points for the lab he missed—and received a failing grade overall for labs that semester—and that he had failed his final, leaving him with a C+ semester grade.

Bethards’ mother says she wrote to the school district in late June, and several times afterward, to request access to her son’s graded chemistry lab work and his final exam, but that access was never granted.

In August, Bethards’ mother wrote a letter to the superintendent, describing her version of events and asking for her son to be able to make up the missed lab and retake the final exam, and for the to review the matter.

Stephenson wrote back in October, denying the request for Bethards to make up the missed lab and retake the final, because "it gives unfair advantage for one student to make up credit missed in a prior year and re-take a final exam that is given only once to all other student."

In that letter, Stephenson also said she had conducted an investigation and spoken to Carlock, and that she had been unable to substantiate the claims because, as of then, Stephenson had not been able to speak to Bethards himself.

CLAIMING DAMAGES

In November, Bethards’ mother filed a government claim against the , in which she claimed more than $10,000 in damages.

She wrote in that document that her son had sustained “severe emotional distress, physical pain and suffering, and severe and continuing damage to claimant’s academic reputation and standing, viability as a college applicant, damage to his ability to obtain scholarships for college, and damage to his future earning capacity” because of Carlock, Barone, Stephenson and the district.

The school district rejected the claim in January and, shortly after that, Stephenson and Bethards’ mother corresponded by email about the matter.

According to the emails included in the complaint, Stephenson said Carlock would change the grade to a B if Bethards’ mother wrote a note to excuse his “absences for the makeup days during final exam week.”

Bethards’ mother responded by saying she would excuse the absences, but said her son had earned an A+ in the class, not a B.

In those emails, Stephenson also said Bowen Bethards' final exam could not be located. In the complaint, Bethards says “Carlock deliberately and maliciously hid and/or destroyed” the exam.

The complaint also says the refusal, by Carlock and the district, to allow Bethards to make up his work violated Education Code Section 42805, which states that a student with an excused absence “shall be allowed to complete all assignments and tests missed during the absence.”

Horowitz compared the situation to a boss refusing to give a worker his paycheck.

“It’s a type of theft,” Horowitz said. “When you earn something, and nobody disputes that you earned it, and somebody takes it away, that’s theft.”

Horowitz described Bethards as “a straight-A student,” and the complaint includes several documents showing Bethards’ academic standing.

According to his transcript, Bethards' C+ in Carlock’s class was the only time during his two years at Albany High that he received a grade lower than a B.

After the dispute, Bethards began attending Berkeley High as a junior; a transcript of the 2011-12 school year shows all A's for his semester grades.

According to the complaint, the district changed Bethards’ grade to a B earlier this year, after the email correspondence between Stephenson and Bethards' mother. But, in addition to monetary damages, Bethards is requesting the court to order the district to change her son's grade to an A+.

“He’s an A student, and his dream for the last three years is to go to UCLA, and this teacher doesn’t have the right to take it away from him,” Horowitz said.

The next scheduled meeting between the two parties is in September for a case management conference.

Horowitz said Bethards wants the grade changed and the situation resolved before he has to submit college applications near the end of 2012.

“If you go to trial, then all the harm is done to the kid’s life, and he doesn’t get to go to the college of his dreams,” Horowitz said.

What do you think of lawsuits over grades? Share your thoughts in the comments.

If there's something in this article you think , or if something else is amiss, call editor Emilie Raguso at 510-459-8325 or email her at albany@patch.com.

Tatter Salad July 31, 2012 at 06:31 AM
You'll find data, and more importantly 'relative' data here: http://www.mercurynews.com/salaries/bay-area Marla's compensation at $351,177 places her second for Bay Area school district employees last year in 2011; about $1,000 behind the Oakland superintendent (Oakland is somewhat bigger and more complex than AUSD). However, Marla's new contract may make her number one in the Bay Area. It looks like Laurie Harden is in sixth place in Alameda County. If you think she's a 'shocker', wait until you look at the relative pay for our Fire Department. (No wonder they walk so carefully, and smile so nicely.)
Caryl O'Keefe July 31, 2012 at 05:22 PM
Tatter, thanks for linking the MercuryNews tables, one clarification is that the "TCOE" total cost of employee you mention includes payments BY employees (terrible table design).So In terms of how much the Oakland and Albany Superintendents COST their respective districts, note that Marla contributes $10K towards her pension ("EE") that is included in her total. The Oakland Superintendent doesn't contribute. Thus Oakland District's cost of Superintendent employment is $352K and Albany's cost is $341K. Note that Laurie Hardin also contributes almost $12K to her pension, and that Marla costs the District nothing for Medical/Dental.
Ira Sharenow July 31, 2012 at 07:08 PM
I put my mouse over the EE. It says: “Employee contribution to pension paid by the employeR.” In 2011, for Marla the total cost of employment was $351,177. In 2010 it was $271,716. http://www.mercurynews.com/salaries/bay-area/2010?appSession=6456268430790&RecordID=&PageID=2&PrevPageID=2&cpipage=1&CPIsortType=asc&CPIorderby=TCOE To view more financial data, there are the SARC documents. http://ausdk12.org/apps/pages/index.jsp?uREC_ID=92420&type=d&pREC_ID=173242 Most of Marla’s contract is on the web. I could not find the appendix that relates to the administrator longevity grid. http://ausdk12.org/apps/pages/index.jsp?uREC_ID=142157&type=d&pREC_ID=332488 http://ausdk12.org/ourpages/auto/2011/10/20/56901325/Superintendent_s%20Contract%205_15_12.pdf
Caryl O'Keefe July 31, 2012 at 09:54 PM
Ira thank you for the correction, you and Tatter are right, I misread the EE acronym. That $10K does belong in the grand total cost of comp.
Steven Lau July 31, 2012 at 11:32 PM
Hi Jen, I think some other posters have helped to answer this already, but to clarify, Patch reported that Superintendent Stephenson's salary was about $212,000 in 2011, according to the Sacramento Bee. The number that Tatter Salad and others are referring to is her Total Compensation (which is salary plus health benefits, contributions to pension, etc.)
montymarket August 01, 2012 at 02:41 AM
Well, now, let's take a look at what the real contributors to our society are making, why don't we. The left handed pitcher what's-his-name for the SF Giants makes $7 million a year guaranteed. Compared to that guy who pitches every fifth day, I'll take a good superintendent of schools every day at 100th the salary. Good schools boost my property values, make my town more livable, and I'm happy to pay taxes for the best services, bar none. Then again, the small forward for the Golden State Warriors makes $5 million a year. When someone is having a heart attack here in Albany, I'm happy to pay for the service of a fireman showing up at their house within several minutes over some guy who scores 15 pts with 3 rebounds a game. Or when someone calls the cops that there's a dog off-time in the park, they actually show up. Mitt Romney made millions by shutting down companies and laying off US workers and sending their jobs overseas. Unlike him, I'm willing to pay taxes for services in my town that make it more livable and fair to all residents. You want good infrastructure, teachers, firemen, police? Then you pay for it.
Ross Stapleton-Gray August 01, 2012 at 04:39 AM
We're not comparing solid-gold apples to oranges here, though. We're talking about management of a smallish school district, which, to judge by Patch's informal poll, is rating a D in transparency. Goodness knows, I'm not the local AUSD gadfly (glances up-topic and winks), but it's certainly fair to judge what we've got. To echo some of the cautions expressed by others, we may (almost certainly) have heard only a part of the story, but we've gotten the sketchiest of news from AUSD (a teacher was removed mid-term in early retirement), and far too many people (including several I know and trust) have related that said teacher had a long-standing practice of capricious grading. To all appearances--thus far--AUSD had a long-standing issue that, while many experienced it, wasn't being addressed. As it looks to me--and again, welcoming more news--this lawsuit is less a parent suing for redress, than a boiling pot finally letting loose.
Tatter Salad August 01, 2012 at 08:12 AM
The least we can do is sort out those things we can change, and quit whining about the things we can't. Mitt Romney and 'Center for the Golden State Warriors' aside, can we actually DO anything about the lack of transparency regarding our school system? Can we DO anything about a Fire Department, and the Superintendent and her Assistant,- regarding their absurd salaries (and 'other' compensations), that are markedly above salaries of those doing equivalent work in neighboring school districts in our county? Can we do anything about new-hire teachers, starting at $43,000? (Putting aside canning Marla, and hiring 8 new teachers!) (Have you noticed that our Police Department is puttering along on the VERY LOW end of the scale? There's a reason they have 'rookie' airheads working for them, because for that salary, that's what we get) ; I could live with this except that the crime rate has gone up since the Chief is no longer elected, (They took that right away from us over 10 years ago, as a result of a "power play" according to a most excellent Mayor in that period: Robert Good). Just WHAT can we change, and what is cast in stone around here?
Peggy McQuaid August 01, 2012 at 02:01 PM
Tatter, the police chief became an appointed position through a City Charter change voted on by the citizens in 2002. Before that time Albany was one of a very few cities in CA with an elected Chief. Albany does have a new officer on the street, but he is hardly an airhead. Here are the crime stats for the last 10 years Violent crime (homicide, rape, robbery, aggravated assault) 2002 – 48 2003 – 67 2004 – 42 2005 – 55 2006 – 54 2007 – 43 2008 – 47 2009 – 59 2010 – 37 2011 – 35 Property crime (burglary, larceny, vehicle theft, arson) 2002 – 786 2003 – 871 2004 – 726 2005 – 779 2006 – 800 2007 – 786 2008 – 657 2009 – 641 2010 – 586 2011 - 478
montymarket August 02, 2012 at 04:01 PM
Why do we live in and love Albany? Excellent schools, responsive fire and police departments, accessible government, walkable streets, solid home values. All of these are under attack because of overreaching on the federal and state levels in the name of quarterly corporate profit, economic inequality, and so-called limited government and no new taxes. How does this play out locally? We the people bear the brunt through cuts in education, cuts in police and fire departments, skyrocketing tuition. Austerity on the local level feeds the beast and leads to even more cutting. If the the top 1% and corporations and, yes, the Romneys paid their fair share of taxes like the rest of us, we wouldn't be in this pickle where some feel compelled to strike out at our teachers, fire, and police forces in a race to the bottom. The country is not broke, but our priorities are skewered toward the rich and powerful. Isn't it funny that when the 49ers wanted a new stadium in Santa Clara, the money magically appears, even if means directly taking away money from public schools to pay for private luxury suites. In November we will have a choice. We can support our schools and fire and police by voting for Governor Jerry Brown's new revenue measure, or side with the Republicans and fight any taxes on the rich and powerful in a race to the bottom.
Jully Kim August 02, 2012 at 04:40 PM
I love chemistry, but it has nothing to do with Carlock. I too was a straight A student at AHS, with my only C+ in her class. I remember deciding to become a chemistry teacher bc while in her class as a student, I realized, "Wow, I can teach this so much better than her." I got my degree in Chemistry at UCB, and while getting my masters/teaching credential, I came back to observe her class - sort of coming back to my roots. After the first day of my 2 week observation, I had to ask my supervisor to change my observation bc I was horrified at her lack of teaching standards, favoritism, ridiculous inaccuracy of her teaching. When I read this story, I see things haven't changed. Good job to the mom for taking action. And her forced retirement for embezzlement? Not surprised at all...
Betsy Thomas August 02, 2012 at 05:04 PM
Wow. Best letter of the entire thread. Thanks, you made my day.
JJMarieKK August 02, 2012 at 05:51 PM
Thank you for becoming a Chemistry teacher and good luck in your work! I hope you have had better teachers or professors since your AHS Chemistry experience who inspired you positively.
Tatter Salad August 02, 2012 at 08:01 PM
Peggy, thanks for the data; IMHO: it's almost meaningless. The Police here are WAY under paid in contrast the pay of neighboring cities doing the same jobs. Since the Police Chief became a 'go between' (between the City Manger and the Sargent's) he's necessarily become 'invisible.' I don't even know what he looks like. The previous Chief was 'on the street', visiting the schools, supporting the 'Elvis Band', passing out 'baseball card' PR representing the officers; even receiving prestigious unique awards from the President of the United States for representing the cops to the kids. I had the catalytic converter stolen from my 4-runner; the officer responding recorded it as an 'incident' - it never made it to the data sheet. THAT is why your data is meaningless. A $900.- theft (worth $80.- at the recyclers) which occurs here weekly, and it's not recorded. Same with the yard-thefts. Tell me how many officers have been here for 8 years or more? -Almost all new faces, as they must move on to other agencies, as they seek a pay scale approaches the MEAN. As sucinctly mentioned by a former Albany Mayor,Oct 31, 2001 : "Measure C is about power," said former mayor Robert Good at a recent League of Women Voters debate. "The question is, should this authority be given to City Hall or should it be kept with the people. A lot of us people think it should stay with the people."
Melissa Hong August 02, 2012 at 08:10 PM
I can relate to some comments on the lack of organization in the classroom and favoritism among students. However, I don’t automatically dismiss her as a bad teacher. She took the time outside of class to coordinate the chemathon encouraging students to compete, and paired AP chem students with regular chem students for extra tutoring. I also dare say that she made me cry at one point, but it was a combination of high expectations and academic pressure to perform well. I don’t find anything wrong with that especially because I don’t find any malice behind her actions. It is worse to have a teacher who doesn’t care about students while handing out high grades. A teacher who communicates high expectations and challenges students’ understanding is a rare incident in a public high school. There were and still are amazing teachers at AHS. Taking classes taught by effective teachers prepared me well for college and I received the highest score on some standardized tests such as the AP exam. However, when it came to AP Chemistry, even with the same level of effort as other AP courses and additional tutoring outside of class, I was not able to receive a 5. It is easy to use this as evidence of Ms. Carlock’s ineffectiveness as a teacher, but the material she taught is difficult for many reasons. [to be continued]
Melissa Hong August 02, 2012 at 08:14 PM
I wouldn’t say that she was the best teacher at AHS. At the same time she does not deserve to have her reputation ruined with negative publicity because of this lawsuit. There are far worse teachers in public schools, and I find her to be average or even above average among public school teachers. I believe AUSD tried their best getting rid of ineffective teachers, and I know it happened several times in the English department when I was there. There were some complaints from parents that it took too long (2 years) to fire a teacher, but I think it is a representation of a broken educational system than the district itself. It is presumptuous for any student to expect to receive all As in their classes just because they have thus far, and blame the teacher when they don’t receive the grade they expect. Ms. Carlock is a reasonable person and I don’t believe she would intentionally fail or deceive a student. I get the feeling that this lawsuit is more about the parent’s frustration on her child who is not performing as well as she want him to, or at least receiving grades that is expected of him. It also seems like this parent is asphyxiated on grades so much so that she doesn’t quite see the bigger picture on what grades are supposed to symbolize. The grading system came about to represent the level of understanding a student has on the subject matter, but it seems that our society has put too much emphasis on grades to be credentials for college acceptance.
Melissa Hong August 02, 2012 at 08:16 PM
Kudos to you! Despite getting a C+ in her class, you continued to study chemistry in college to become a chem teacher. Perhaps the C+ did not inflict severe physical and emotional damage to students like the parent claims in this lawsuit.
OaklandTeacher August 02, 2012 at 10:35 PM
I teach in Oakland and I have seen all sides of this story. There ARE terrible teachers who are irresponsible and abusive towards kids. There are hard-working kids "punished" for all kinds of reasons, from the real (their inability to get to school on time because there are six kids at home) the maybe (a missing assignment), and the completely unjust (teachers with personal vendettas against certain students). There are also teachers who try to reach kids and can't. Students who belittle and harass teachers behind their backs or to their faces, and expect zero consequences structural or personal. Parents love their kids. They fight for them. Usually parents are absolutely my greatest allies in a world where the three of us, student/parent/teacher have to put in work to create successful experiences. Sometimes they're blinded by their kids. I have had students whose parents barge in demanding meetings the last day of the semester asking, "What can Junior do to raise her grade in your class?" (Guess what: Me saying, "Nothing, it's too late," is the WRONG answer.) The unfortunate thing is that the system in which I work provides few checks and balances to either reward teachers who are scrupulously fair or remove teachers who are not. The real point? Parents need to be VERY careful when they fight battles for their kids. Childhood ends too early for many students and lasts way too long for others. What lessons is this student really learning from all this?
Emilie Raguso August 03, 2012 at 08:24 PM
We've spoken to an attorney about the lawsuit. Here's his take on it, along with a poll where you can weigh in: "Civil Rights Lawyer Calls Lawsuit Against AUSD Frivolous" http://patch.com/A-wDbs
Karin Lamb August 04, 2012 at 04:21 AM
And there has as yet been no damage done, only theoretical because he has not been rejected from the programs and universities of his choice with this C+ being the clear reason. He's a rising senior, he hasn't finished his applications, let alone started getting responses. I cry foul!
Karin Lamb August 04, 2012 at 04:47 AM
@tatter salad: AMS was. not "created" in 1997. Do a little research. When I attended there in the late 70s/early 80s there were MANY male teachers. A few of which are: Mr. Uchiumi, Mr. Etchegorry, Rich Salisbury, Phil Rolnick, Mike Mirabella, Mr.Gamba. Administrators at the time were also male. We can check the records for more information.
AHS Junior August 05, 2012 at 09:48 PM
Brian, how long ago were you in Ms. Carlock's class? I'm just curious, since I don't know a whole lot of (in fact, I don't know any) students of hers from the past four years who would defend her like this.
AlbanyResident August 07, 2012 at 04:59 PM
My daughter was in AP Chem. class this year. To her credit, she worked extremely hard to learn the required material - probably the hardest I've ever seen her work. I worried when she was left without a teacher a few months before having to take the AP exam, without having been exposed to the full years's worth of material. This was to be her first AP test experience ever! To the school's credit, they brought in an excellent temporary teacher who helped fill in any remaining holes. To my daughter's classmates' credit, they banded together to help one another study what they all felt they needed to since they were basically on their own before the temporary teacher arrived. To Ms. Carlock's credit, she did continue to suggest what to study after she was gone. To the credit of the AHS Chem. club, students who had taken the AP test the year before, gave up a precious Saturday to administer a mock AP exam and answer questions. Between whatever my daughter taught herself, Ms. Carlock taught, required/suggested/referenced for students to study, the cooperation of classmates, the Chem. club, and the input of the temporary teacher, my daughter was able to score the highest possible points on both the AP Chem. and Chem. SAT tests. Much credit goes to my daughter for her perserverance through a difficult situation and her abilities, but my main reason for posting this is to show that AHS and AUSD as a whole, did not fail my child in her chemistry endeavors last year. Thank you.
Laura Driussi August 07, 2012 at 06:00 PM
AlbanyResident, thanks for this story and giant kudos to your daughter. It's very helpful for me as an AHS parent to see the variety of experiences students can have, even with the same teacher. When my kids were at Cornell, I had a conversation with a friend about (we thought) two different teachers. She was warning me to avoid a terrible teacher and I was telling her about a terrific one. It was the same person.
Brian Hong August 07, 2012 at 06:08 PM
AHS Junior: I was in Ms.Carlock's class in the year of 2002 and 2003. Things might have changed since then. Albany Resident. I am so happy to hear this story. Thank you and Congratulations. I know this experience will serve your daughter tremendously in the future. I remember even when Ms.Carlock was around, there was a community formed around the AP test-- people baked cookies and brought it to study sessions, shared notes, tutored each other, held study groups. I remember Ms.Carlock told us to get proper nutrition as the test date approached and to sleep plentifully. People did well on the tests. And even if they didn't, i don't remember anyone complaining about the school, or the teacher. I think everyone understood they had higher standards than what a public school expected of them and that the onus was on them to full fill this expectation. Again. Thank you for the wonderful story-- all the best to you and your daughter.
AlbanyResident August 07, 2012 at 07:23 PM
Thank you, Brian and Laura for your comments. I hope that other students who were directly affected by the situation were also able to persevere in 2011-2012.
Richard Marsh August 31, 2012 at 09:51 PM
I Can bear personal witness to Peggy Carlock earning her doctorate from UC Berkeley. I was at her graduation ceremony. Noble prize winner in Chemistry Glenn Seaborg personally puntuated her achievement. She earned the degee in Science Education. Dr. Carlock is a heralded teacher of Chemistry. Although many of you haved called for a hearing from both sides, most go right on affirming allegation as if they were true; and some toss in new allegations as if they were fact. I know Dr. Carlock to be a champion of good science and good teaching.
Richard Marsh August 31, 2012 at 10:02 PM
I have flagged as inappropriate the lible committed by several folks and the references to same noted by by several other folks. I hope they are removed as examples of simply wrongful.
lubov mazur September 16, 2012 at 04:13 PM
So, what happened in the end?
Emilie Raguso September 18, 2012 at 05:31 AM
I will have to follow up.

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