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Corinth mom sues Grant school district

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By Bryan Marshall

A Corinth mother is suing the Grant County School District after years of alleged harassment and racial slurs against her three children.

Melissa Altman filed the federal lawsuit, which also named Superintendent Michael Hibbett and Mason-Corinth Elementary Principal Lisa Hollandsworth, on Nov. 4 in U.S. District Court in Covington.

Altman, who is represented by attorney Eric Deters of Independence, is suing for $500,000 in damages.

The alleged incidents at MCE took place during the 2007-2009 academic years with the most recent incident occurring Oct. 17, 2009, according to the lawsuit.

The students are first-, second- and sixth graders, but the suit does not specify where they attend school currently.

During the three-year span, Altman alleges that her children were tripped, kicked, attacked on the school bus, had homework stolen and altered, written on with permanent marker and had clothing ripped off.

The lawsuit also alleges that the students experienced several racially oriented statements, including being called “dirty boy” and “jigabbo” and “slavery should still be legal so (they) would not come to school.”

“As a result of the ongoing harassment experienced by (the children), they continued to become afraid of the school environment, progressed poorly in school and all three experienced other negative aspects of harassment,” the lawsuit states.

The alleged harassment by students and teachers made the children “anxious, upset, depressed and socially withdrawn,” according to the suit.

Altman allegedly repeatedly contacted and discussed the harassment with teachers and administrative staff to no avail.

According to the lawsuit, administrators knew the identity of the those who were harassing the students on more than one occasion, but either took no corrective action or minimal action contrary to the written policies of the school district.

The suit also alleges that in response to the acts of harassment, teachers or administrators made comments such as “he deserved it for cutting in line for ice cream”, punished the children for reporting the incidents by making them call their mother and walk laps and refused to give the names of perpetrators so criminal action could be filed.

Hibbett, Hollandsworth and the school district “have condoned student-on-student racial and physical harassment in the past, displaying a propensity to down play the acts, blaming the victims, inadequately investigating allegations and minimizing the severity by little or no punitive sanctions against perpetrators,” the lawsuit states.

In a statement released by Hibbett and school board attorney Suzanne Cassidy, Hibbett and Hollandsworth deny that they or the district are liable for injuries claimed by Altman.

“The district and the Office of Civil Rights of the U.S. Department of Education previously investigated the factual allegations contained in the complaint, and concluded that district personnel did not discriminate against Ms. Altman’s children on the basis of their race, or allow other students to do so either,” the statement adds. “The district intends to vigorously defend itself and its personnel in this lawsuit, and anticipates the same outcome in federal court that occurred as a result of the outside administrative investigation.

“Grant County Schools will continue to provide a quality education to all its students during the course of this litigation without regard to the distractions caused by the lawsuit. ,” according to the statement. “The district remains committed to its policy and practice of assuring that its students receive this education in a learning environment free from any form of invidious discrimination.”