A South Bend Community School Corporation board member is at the center of a legal battle involving the school corporation, his daughter and his granddaughter. Bill Sniadecki’s daughter, Hope Sniadecki, filed a lawsuit last month, claiming the superintendent, board president and corporation targeted her 5-year-old daughter because they don’t like her grandfather.
That little girl is named as a victim in the lawsuit Hope’s attorney filed in state court, then moved across the street to federal court. In it, Hope claims the school corporation kicked her daughter out of kindergarten two weeks into the school year because the child is bi-racial and because her grandfather is outspoken.
But the school corporation claims the girl was mistakenly enrolled at Tarkington Traditional School and said it corrected that mistake shortly after it was discovered. SBCSC attorney Lyle Hardman called the suit “frivolous.”
“She doesn’t understand why she can't go to school and I really don't know what to say to her,” Hope told WSBT.
She also claims the Tarkington principal knew her daughter’s birth date because she gave it to her in an email last summer.
“They took the birth certificates, they copied their birth certificates. They were very aware of her age,” Hope explained. “When you enroll a child, there are multiple documents with date of birth. It was very clear. The issue came up, we discussed it and they said it was fine.”
State law says kindergarteners have to be 5 years old by August 1 of that school year. The law also allows school districts to set their own procedure when it comes to admitting kids who don’t meet that cutoff.
SBCSC spokeswoman Sue Coney said the corporation allows students as long as they are 5 by September 1 and they go through the corporation’s waiver process. However, she added, the student in question in this case didn’t meet either of those benchmarks.
Hope’s daughter turned 5 on September 8.
Then, two weeks after classes started, Hope said the principal and another corporation employee called her into a meeting and said her daughter could not come back to Tarkington this year because she’s too young.
“I’ve been told by multiple principals of other schools that they have plenty of children enrolled in these schools with birthdates that are younger than my daughter,” Hope said.
But Coney maintains that’s not true.
According to the lawsuit that names Superintendent Carole Schmidt, board president Michelle Engel and the school corporation, Hope says there’s more to it.
“I don't want to sue the corporation, I don't want nothing from the corporation. I just want them to treat my daughter with respect and get my daughter back in school where she belongs,” Hope added. “And have her stop being singled out just because of my father.”
Engel told WSBT Tuesday the fact that the issue came up at Monday night’s meeting caught her by surprise.
“We accomplished so much at last night's meeting. This is a distraction, it's a travesty to me. I feel bad for that child."
Coney said it “took several days” for the school corporation to realize Hope’s daughter was “mistakenly enrolled at Tarkington.”
Even though Hope’s attorney filed a motion Monday to dismiss the federal suit, the legal drama may not be over yet.
Both Hope and Hardman told WSBT that Hardman threatened sanctions against her if she lost, meaning she could have to pay all of the corporation’s legal fees for the case.
Hope said her attorney might file the case a second time in Superior Court.