A Cleburne High School student won’t march in band his senior year after Cleburne ISD trustees upheld previous decisions that kept him on the sideline.
After a noon level three grievance hearing Wednesday, Cheston Cannon’s grandfather and legal guardian, Darrell Vinson, said he was not surprised by the decision.
Trustee Stu Madison motioned first, followed by Trustee Elizabeth Childress. Board president Brent Easdon did not vote because he said he could not remain impartial and trustee Wendell Dempsey did not vote because he said he had prior knowledge of the information Vinson presented.
The meeting was supposed to take place in open session but someone made the last-minute decision to bring it behind closed doors. In a prepared statement Vinson said the discrimination against Cannon, 17, started as “a deficiency of implementing my grandson’s 504 accommodations, by the band directors.”
Wednesday’s final decision means that Cannon will continue playing in the marching band’s ensemble, comprised of mallet instruments and others that do not march. Cannon had dreams of being a marching snare drummer, Vinson said.
However, this season’s marching drill only called for four snare drummers on the field, and Cannon was not named one of the top four drummers during auditions, Superintendent Tim Miller said.
But the Vinsons alleged that Cannon could have been one of the top four drummers, if district officials did not “cover up” Cannon’s incomplete 504 plan.
According to the Office for Civil Rights, “section 504 [in the Rehabilitation Act of 1973] is a federal law designed to protect the rights of individuals with disabilities in programs and activities that receive federal financial assistance from the U.S. Department of Education.”
The law also reads: “No otherwise qualified individual with a disability in the United States . . . shall, solely by reason of her or his disability, be excluded from the participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving federal financial assistance ...”
Cannon, who has dyslexia, dysgraphia and attention deficit hyperactive disorder, has attempted to make the marching band for four years.
Vinson provided documents that show Cannon’s 504 plan had been largely incomplete in 2011 and in 2012. Miller did not deny the documents were from the district but said he believed Cannon’s 504 plan had been followed at CHS.
Vinson said the incomplete 504 forms shows that district officials cannot guarantee that any of Cannon’s teachers understood or were aware of Cannon’s needs.
He said that Cannon has not made any progress in several years. But Miller said Cannon has progressed and is on a higher-level instrument than before.
Vinson also alleged that tryouts weren’t conducted properly and questioned whether they had been faked or otherwise invalid. Miller said there were five judges present for tryouts and not all of the judges had direct ties to the band — in other words, they were unbiased spectators.
“There have not been any changes to the scores,” Miller said. “I talked with the people that produced the scores. In my opinion, I do not think the tryout procedure was what [the Vinsons] say it is and the scores are what they say they are.”
Miller went on to say that there are students at every level of the band who have special needs and students with 504 accommodations, including a student who uses a wheelchair on the field.
“We encourage people, if they fail, to continue trying,” he said. “It’s our band directors’ goal to help every single child achieve their potential.
“[Cheston] is a leader in the band, he is a good student in the band and he is a talented student in the band,” Miller said, adding, “Whether it’s in school or business or anywhere else, sometimes you have to deal with disappointment.”
Vinson said the next step is to file discriminatory documentation with Texas Education Agency and with the Office of Civil Rights.