No diploma for student who sued, judge says

Monday, June 8, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT

PALESTINE, Ark. — A Palestine-Wheatley High School student who sued the school district last month so that he could participate in the school's graduation ceremony, despite a failing English grade, won't get a diploma, a judge says.

Circuit Judge Ben Story ruled last week on the suit filed by Brian Dode Martin. Story had earlier granted Martin's initial request for an order allowing the teenager to walk with his classmates in the school's commencement ceremony.

Martin sued after he was told he couldn't graduate because he was 2.4 points shy of passing his 12th-grade English class.

After a hearing last week, Story ruled that the district was justified in denying Martin a diploma, despite his allegations that he was targeted for religious discrimination by his English teacher, and that part of his failing grade stemmed from a "participation grade" that students weren't told about in the school's handbook.

Story said that, had he been presented with all the evidence before granting Martin an order allowing him to walk with his classmates, that order would not have been issued.

According to Story's ruling, Martin was already failing his English course before factoring in the "participation grade" that lowered his overall grade even further. The judge rejected Martin's claim of religious discrimination after hearing testimony from the teacher, Dean Buist.

Buist said he had sent Martin text messages inviting him to youth group meetings at Cumberland Presbyterian Church where Buist is youth group director, but said he sent such messages to several students who attend that church. According to Buist, Martin's father and step-mother attend the church. The teacher denied pressuring Martin about not attending the meetings.

Palestine-Wheatley Superintendent Donnie Collins said he was pleased the matter was close.

"We're just glad to get all of this behind us," Collins said.


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