$1M lawsuit against Raymond School District headed to courtBy GRETYL MACALASTER
Union Leader Correspondent
May 15. 2013 8:51PM
RAYMOND — It has been more than 18 months since parent Bethany T. filed suit against the Raymond School District for $1 million in damages.
It has been more than two years since her son left Raymond High School after allegedly facing multiple incidents of racial harassment during the 2010-11 school year.
But soon, they will have their day in court.
Dozens of motions and objections have been filed in the case since it was first brought in October 2011.
On May 10, U.S. District Court Judge Steven J. McAuliffe issued summary judgment in parts of the case, but the overarching issue of whether the district violated Title VI of the federal civil rights law is scheduled to go before a jury on May 21. Former superintendent Jeanne Richards, high school principal Kirk Beitler and former assistant principal Jayme Rodriguez are also named in the complaint.
“We are very pleased with the court’s order and in the event that it does go to trial, we are looking forward to the opportunity to present the issues to the jury,” Karen Hewes, attorney for the plaintiff, said.
Hewes said the only real issue of fact knocked out by the judge was the matter of whether the district’s action, or inactions constituted “intentional infliction of emotional distress.”
School officials have not denied that a high school student was subjected to racial harassment during the 2010-11 school year, but said they thought they were following the correct law in handling the matter.
The Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights in Boston conducted an extensive investigation of the allegations after receiving a complaint from Bethany T. in May 2011, and determined that the district’s actions were not adequate to stop or prevent the harassment.
The district is seeking to exclude the OCR report from being introduced in the civil case.
According to the OCR report, the student was called racial slurs, handed a book on the Ku Klux Klan and asked if he wanted to learn something, and another student threatened to burn a cross on his front lawn.
“I think where the issues really concern are incidents involving references to the Ku Klux Klan, threats of burning crosses and being called the worst racial epithet in American history,” Hewes said. “Certainly it is a serious issue and I think that most people in society believe it does not exist in 2013.”
She said her client filed the suit because she felt her son was being discriminated against and the school district was failing to respond appropriately and in accordance with the law.
She said her client wishes it had never happened to her son in the first place, and wants to prevent it from happening to any other students in the future.
The school entered into a voluntary agreement with the OCR in 2011 and is under their oversight through 2014 while instituting new policies, practices and training around racial harassment.
But Hewes said it does not change the fact that the district did not respond adequately when faced with racial harassment issues in the 2010-11 school year.
“The facts will detail their failures, particularly not having a policy on racial harassment. I think it is a big failure on the part of the school district during that school year,” Hewes said.
In the May 10 order, summary judgment was made in favor of the individual defendants on the Title VI claim, but not in favor of the district or SAU.
The judge states that the central issue is whether the district and SAU were deliberately indifferent to the alleged student-on-student harassment.
He states that a reasonable jury could conclude that the harassment was “more than the sort of teasing and bullying that generally takes place in schools.”
The school district argued that summary judgment was appropriate because the basic facts about what actions it took in response to the alleged harassment are not in serious dispute.
“Those basic facts, however, give rise to competing inferences about the reasonableness of the district’s actions in light of the known circumstances,” the judge writes.
Hewes said until the trial begins, there is always the possibility of self-settlement, but to date, there has been no settlement agreement made.