A former Fulton County teacher claims she was fired because she blew the whistle on a policy that forced hundreds of poor students to miss school field trips.
Sherry Adams said her Fulton County school used to give parents an opportunity to say, "Yes, I want my child to go, but I can't afford the fee."
Then, someone changed the form, meaning parents had to pay or their children couldn't go.
Adams said a lot of children started missing field trips because of the apparently intentional deception.
Some may argue the education value of busing scores of middle school students to the Georgia Aquarium or World of Coke, but the trips are unquestionably a big deal to the students.
At West Middle School, 90 percent of the students qualify for free or reduced lunches because of their family income.
Many of their parents cannot afford field trip fees, either. Adams said the students were left out of the trips.
"To actually look in the eyes of the students who were not allowed to go, I don't think you can put into words how that made me feel sitting at my desk," Adams said.
Adams said she knew something was wrong when she noticed a change in the field trip permission forms. The old form allowed parents to say their child could go, but they were unable to pay. Early this year, the form changed and that option disappeared.
"Only about 20 to 25 students were going on these trips because they were the ones who could pay for them. If you could not pay, you did not go. And that's the point. The parents weren't even aware that their child could still go," Adams said.
Belcher checked with the state to see if local school systems can require a fee for a student to go on a field trip.
"If it's associated with a state-funded course, I would say, no (fees)," said Department of Education Policy Director Dr. Howard Hendley.
Hendley said the law does not make provisions for children who cannot afford to go, but that most districts try to make provisions.
Adams said West Middle School made no provisions for the students whose families could not pay.
At a faculty meeting in February, she questioned the change in the permission slip.
"And I even held them up, and I said, 'It's been removed. Someone had to remove it and the principal signed off on it, so I know someone had to be aware,'" Adams said.
Three days before speaking up, Adams received a performance review that rated her proficient in all categories.
Three days after the complaint, on Feb. 25, Adams was written up for tardiness.
She continued to press her complaint up the chain of command.
"The principal was aware. The interim principal was aware. I hand-carried it to the area superintendent and told her," Adams said. "The human resources department knew, and they still allowed all these field trips to go forward."
In April, the Fulton County School System notified Adams her contract would not be renewed. Days before the end of the school year, she received her final evaluation. She was rated proficient in every category.
She is convinced her complaints cost her her job.
"I bet when field trips take place now, parents are going to be aware and students are going to be treated fairly," Adams said.
The school system acknowledges that Adams' complaint reached an area superintendent, who referred the issue to her principal. The principal was replaced weeks before the end of the school year, just after Adams was told she was being fired.