The attorney for the 10-year-old black Volusia County student accused of groping a district mental health counselor has served the school district with a pre-suit notice of the family’s intentions to sue, alleging racial discrimination and violation of due student process. Rights.
“We have decided because Volusia (county schools) has forced us to, that trying to rectify this only internally within the school system, within the board level, is futile,” attorney Rawsi Williams of Rawsi Williams Law Group said in Miami. in a virtual press conference on Wednesday morning.
Holly Hill School student, a fourth grader, and his family have denied the allegations since they were reported in October.
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The pre-suit notice states that the 10-year-old, whom The News-Journal is not naming due to his age, was “illegally and unfairly suspended for 10 days without due process and in violation of Volusia’s own policies, wrongfully subjected to police questioning and charged with criminal assault, public humiliation, charged with a crime of a serious nature and placed in the criminal justice system forever.”
It also accuses the school district of continually denying the family legal representation at meetings and trying to “extract statements, evidence, and testimony from this child and his family for misuse in their appeal decision and pending litigation.”
Williams says they plan to file suit in federal court, but since it will include state claims, Florida requires pre-suit notice followed by a six-month waiting period before filing suit.
She says the lawsuit would address violation of children’s rights to due process and equal protection under the 14th Amendment, as well as possible violations of the Civil Rights Act.
In the meantime, Williams says they will file complaints against the school district with the Office for Civil Rights, in addition to complaints against the administrators and educators involved with the US Department of Education.
“From the beginning, they have violated the rights of this child, the rights of this child under the age of 10, from the start of an illegal suspension, from the start of calling the police to arrest this child based on the false accusations of his white mental illness. health adviser,” he said.
A Volusia County School District Mental Health Counselor reported the alleged incident on Monday, October 24. The News-Journal would not name the counselor, who opted for Marsy’s Law to protect his identity.
A suspension letter sent to the boy’s guardians says the counselor was in the student’s classroom discussing another student when the class returned from lunch and the boy “went up (to the counselor) to give her a hug.”
“(The counselor) turned on his side for a side hug,” the report says. “(The student) put her left arm around her shoulder and then with her right hand reached out and grabbed her left breast in which she had to grab her wrist and remove her hand. ”.
The explanation says the student “proceeded to smile and walked away” and then “started yelling and kicking things and stormed off” when questioned about the incident by his elementary teacher.
The Holly Hill Police Department report, which the employee later filed, indicated that the incident, which was reported as a simple assault, occurred sometime between 11:30 am and noon.
That report states that the counselor saw the student running towards her and turned her body. The student hugged her and then “grabbed her left breast in a disrespectful manner,” and she had to “forcefully remove his hand,” she told police.
The report also notes that the elementary teacher in the classroom did not witness the incident, but tried to talk to the student about it afterward.
Student has returned to school, scared of police, family says
The student’s family and attorney dispute the counselor’s version of events. They have stated that the hug was mutual and there was no groping. They have also stressed that the other teacher in the room told the police that she did not witness the incident. The boy says that he entered the room instead of running and after the hug he returned to his seat to talk to his friends about soccer.
Williams claims the boy’s suspension was unlawful, as the family was not properly notified or offered a hearing, and many fields on the suspension form were left blank and unsigned. She says the district has violated her due process rights regarding proper suspension procedures and family conferences, and has taken the counselor’s word over the child’s without witnesses.
The student’s grandfather and guardian, Ed Hollins, said it was “sad” that the district continues to try to “skip due process.”
Hollins said the boy is now afraid of the police, coming home with a stomach ache, and has asked if the police are outside.
The student’s father, whom The News-Journal is not naming to protect the boy’s identity, reiterated that the boy is worried that people will see him as a monster rather than himself.
“As grown men, we have to fight to prove ourselves every day, and then, you know, for a 10-year-old boy, for a boy to have to go through that, it’s like trying to take away his childhood.” he said.
The district did not find enough evidence to expel the 10-year-old, and he has since returned to school.
Williams has told the district that the student should no longer be in that teacher’s classroom because she falsely accused him of groping her even though she did not witness it. She also told the district that the counselor should not have any contact with the boy and further informed the school that no retaliation would be taken against the student.
They have also appealed the student’s suspension, but no decision has been made.
The incident is similar to other local and national cases
Williams said there has been no update on the assault charges the counselor is pressing against the student with the Holly Hill Police Department, but they will “fight this to the fullest extent of the law.”
She also noted a similar incident in New York, where a white woman accused a 9-year-old black boy of groping her behind in a store, only to later apologize when surveillance footage showed the boy’s backpack brushing against her rear.
Williams previously defended two black students who accused Volusia County school employees of strangling them in two separate incidents.
Volusia County Schools does not normally comment on pending litigation or individual disciplinary action. The News-Journal is awaiting a response to a request for comment sent Wednesday morning.
A spokesperson previously told The News-Journal that the student has been disciplined to the extent of the student code of conduct and that the teachers are private citizens, so “school districts may not encourage or prohibit the bringing of criminal charges or prosecutions by employees”.
Contact reporter Danielle Johnson at email@example.com.