Buford school district employee sues district, alleging retaliation

Plaintiff said advocacy for student needs led to demotion

The former head of student services in Buford City Schools is suing the district and two top leaders, accusing them of retaliating against her for raising issues with the services provided for special needs students, according to documents filed in Gwinnett County Superior Court.

The plaintiff, Dana Maxwell, has demanded a jury trial over the alleged treatment, which she said included a demotion. She’s seeking her old job and payment for other damages and legal fees.

ExploreBuford school board names its choice for next superintendent

The district released a statement denying Maxwell’s allegations, saying they are “grossly inaccurate and arise from a disgruntled employee asserting a false narrative based on half-truths and select information.” The district said it did transfer Maxwell from one job to another, but the move was justified and didn’t result in a pay cut. It also said Buford schools are dedicated to providing services and support to students with disabilities.

Georgia Department of Education data shows Buford, located in north Gwinnett County, had about 500 students with a disability last school year. The district has about 5,800 students.

Maxwell led student services for nine years and faced opposition to her advocacy efforts from administrators, according to court documents.

Maxwell names the district’s superintendent, Melanie Beard Reed, as a defendant in the suit and accuses her of failing to support the district’s obligations to special needs students under federal law and state regulations.

ExploreBurnout, pandemic, politics: Georgia teachers start year under pressure

Court documents allege a principal once attempted to assign 75 students with individualized education programs to one case manager — the Georgia Department of Education limits case managers to 26 students. Maxwell said she attempted to intervene, but district leaders sided against her until the school district’s attorney stepped in. In other situations, Maxwell said the district was slow to act when she informed them of student or program needs.

After Reed became superintendent in January, Maxwell said her job was threatened and administrators would speak negatively about her to other employees.

ExploreMore coverage of local education issues

Maxwell’s attorney sent the district a letter stating her rights were violated under the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Georgia Whistleblower Act.

Maxwell was later demoted from director of student services to a student services specialist, a move that shifted her work from the central office to a day care center and caused a “loss of title, prestige, responsibility, reputation,” according to court documents. Maxwell said deputy superintendent Amy Chafin, the other named defendant in the lawsuit, told her she would “not correct her unsuitable work situation” unless Maxwell retracted her claims about the district’s services for special needs students.

Maxwell’s attorney Anita Bala said she had no comment on the lawsuit. She filed the complaint late last month, and court records do not show a future hearing scheduled.