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Parents Sue Springfield School Employees

The parent of a black student who was the victim of a physical threat and a racial slur by a school employee has filed a lawsuit against past and present employees of the Springfield School District.

The four-count complaint — filed in U.S. District Court by attorney Brian Marsicovetere on behalf of Christopher M. Meyers — alleges Meyers’ adopted son was denied his rights as a member of a protected racial minority group.

The lawsuit also alleges the student, who was one of two black students out of 318 at Riverside Middle School and is referred to in court records by his initials E.M-R., was subjected to a racially hostile environment.

“E.M-R. was subjected to severe, persistent and objectively racial harassment and discrimination that prevented him from accessing the educational opportunities that were available to other students at Riverside,” the complaint alleges. “Riverside’s response to said harassment and discrimination was clearly unreasonable and failed to remedy the harm E.M-R. suffered as a result of the same.”

According to the complaint, in May 2010, E.M-R. was a sixth-grade student at Riverside. During homeroom in Nathan McNaughton’s classroom, McNaughton left the room, leaving E.M-R. under the supervision of paraprofessional Michael Laplante. Both McNaughton and Laplante are named as defendants in the lawsuit.

According to a report from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights, which conducted a two-year investigation into the incident, E.M-R. was using a yard stick to sword fight with a white student. According to the report, Laplante told E.M-R. if he did not stop playing with the yard stick, he would “shove it” into him, and then used the racial slur.

“He (Laplante) then directed E.M-R. to sit down but gave no similar direction to the Caucasian student,” the complaint alleges. “Defendant Laplante did not threaten or otherwise discipline the Caucasian student.”

The complaint alleges Laplant notified McNaughton of the incident, but McNaughton did not bring the incident to the attention of school administrators.

The lawsuit also accuses Laplante of other actions against E.M-R., including grabbing him by the shirt and pulling him from the steps of a school bus, grabbing him by the neck and, in another incident, grabbing him by the back of the shirt and dragging him across a room.

The lawsuit alleges administrators — when informed of these incidents — failed to take action, and names as defendants Riverside Principal Becky Read and Vice-Principal Steven Cone.

Since the incident, Laplante has resigned, as have fellow defendants Frank Perotti, former district superintendent and Vincent Hawkins, former assistant superintendent of curriculum, instruction and assessment.

The complaint claims E.M-R. experienced substantial embarrassment, emotional distress and mental health impairments, including post-traumatic stress, anxiety and depression. The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages.

Current Interim Superintendent Zachary McLaughlin did respond to a request for comment for this story.

Josh O'Gorman is a reporter for the Rutland Herald.

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