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Former Penn Hills student claims he was expelled without due process

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Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2012, 1:58 p.m.

A former Penn Hills student and his mother claim in a federal civil rights lawsuit filed Tuesday that the Linton Middle School principal expelled him without a hearing or due process and, consequently, no charter school will enroll him.

Zyion Handburgh, 13, and his mother, Michelle Berish of Penn Hills, are asking a judge to reinstate him as a student.

Charles Steele, one of Handburgh's lawyers, said the teen wasn't really “expelled” because that would imply he went through the expulsion process. Instead, Principal Shaun Cooke simply told Berish that her son was no longer a student, the lawsuit says.

“I've never seen it done like that,” he said.

Handburgh and Berish are only suing the district, but the lawsuit is based on what they claim Cooke did.

District spokeswoman Teresita Kolenchak, solicitor Craig Alexander and Cooke couldn't be reached for comment.

The lawsuit claims that Handburgh suffers from emotional disturbance, behavior problems and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, but the district has refused to provide him with an Individual Education Plan or other support required by federal disability and state and federal school laws.

Cooke suspended Handburgh for two days on Oct. 28 after he disrupted class during a math test on Oct. 24, according to court documents. Cooke scrawled “return to alt ed” on the back of a business card that he sent home with Handburgh, the lawsuit says.

When Berish asked Cooke on Oct. 31 what homework her son needed to make up, Cooke said he had none because he was no longer a student, the lawsuit says.

None of the surrounding charter schools will enroll Handburgh because they don't understand why Penn Hills kicked him out, according to the lawsuit.

Brian Bowling is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-325-4301 or

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