COLUMBIA - A whistle blower lawsuit filed in the 13th Circuit Court accuses Columbia Public Schools' gifted education criteria of discriminating based on "race, color and national origin."
The plaintiff in the case is Dr. Beth Winton, a gifted education faculty member. According to her page on the CPS website, Winton has worked for the district for more than two decades.
The lawsuit claims that in the district's gifted education program, white and Asian students are overrepresented, while Black and Hispanic students are underrepresented. Winton said she tried to bring this to the attention of district leaders, but was rejected.
"Families with resources will always be able to make up the difference and provide enrichment for their kids that the public schools don't," Winton said. "And families without resources or without cultural capital need us to do our jobs."
Winton further claims she was rejected as an applicant for the district's Principal of Elementary Gifted Services, despite being "the most qualified candidate." The person who was chosen, the lawsuit says, was not certified in gifted education despite a state requirement that they be so.
"I've just gone in every day and kept doing my job and felt as though Columbia Public Schools would always eventually do the right thing, and unfortunately that didn't happen. And it makes me sad," Winton said. "It didn't have to come to this, but I'm going to keep doing my job on behalf of gifted kids."
Winton claims the reason she was not hired as principal was "because she repeatedly opposed and protested the unlawful and wrongful conduct by CPS."
Winton's attorney, John Rogers, said CPS certainly has a problem with identification of students for gifted education services.
"Both the school and the administration went beyond incompetence," Rogers said. "It went to intentional wrongful conduct that clearly violated Missouri's whistleblower statute."
CPS' board policy related to gifted education states: "The identification process will include alternative identification plans designed to identify gifted students who are traditionally under-identified and underserved, such as students with language differences, cultural differences, special educational needs and those from families living in poverty."
Winton said she doesn't believe CPS is adequately doing that.
Rogers said the guidelines require gifted students to meet thresholds in multiple categories.
"At best, many other students were getting identified if they met them in one and sometimes even zero," he said.
Rogers said there's know way he could know for certain whether the intentions of CPS were intentional but that he's confident he can prove it was intentional conduct.
According to the lawsuit, "many of these fraudulently identified students were the children of CPS administrators, teachers, or employees, or were children of local doctors, professors, and other prominent community members."
The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages and attorneys' fees.