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Verrett v. Independent School District #625

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

July 3, 2019

Dennis A. Verrett, Jr., individually and as parent and next friend of T.S.V. Plaintiffs,
Independent School District #625, Defendant.

          Patrick B. Moore, Esq. and Joslin & Moore Law Offices, PA, and Gary W. Strootman, Esq. counsel for plaintiff.

          Sarah E. Bushnell, Esq. and Arthur, Chapman, Kettering, Smetak & Pikala, PA, and Colin Seaborg, Esq. and Bassford Remele, counsel for defendant.


          David S. Doty, Judge

         This matter is before the court upon the motion to dismiss by Independent School District #625. Based on a review of the file, record, and proceedings herein, and for the following reasons, the motion is granted in part.


         This discrimination dispute arises out of a June 8, 2017, incident at the Expo Elementary School for Excellence (Expo) in St. Paul, Minnesota. Compl. ¶¶ 9, 13.

         I. The Parties

         Plaintiff Dennis A. Verrett, Jr. is the father of plaintiff T.S.V. Id. ¶ 9. On June 8, 2017, T.S.V., who is African-American, was a fifth-grader at Expo. Id. ¶ 13. Defendant Independent School District #625 (the District) operates Expo. Id. ¶ 3.

         II. The June 8, Incident

         On June 8, T.S.V. was one of three African-American students siting together in science class. Id. ¶ 15. At some point during the class instruction, the other two African-American students began socializing, disrupting the class. Id. The science teacher was unable to get the two students' attention. Id. Ex. A at V ¶ 9. The science teacher then “brought up” the educational achievement gap between white and African-American students. Id. ¶ 14. The teacher gestured with his hands to a group of white students and then to the group of African-American students to demonstrate the gap. Id. Ex. A at V ¶ 10. The teacher stated that the two African-American students' behavior was the cause of the achievement gap. Id. ¶ 15.

         T.S.V. left the classroom crying. Id. ¶ 17. An unknown teacher noticed T.S.V. in the hallway, and escorted her to the assistant principal's office. Id. The assistant principal knew T.S.V. and invited T.S.V. into her office to calm the child down. Id. Ex. A at V ¶ 15.

         In the office, T.S.V. explained what the science teacher said. Id. T.S.V. mentioned the other students involved, and those students were called to the assistant principal's office to give their versions of the incident. Id. The science teacher also came to the office and explained his version of the events. Id. The science teacher allegedly told T.S.V. that “he did not mean to say that.” Id. Ex. A at V ¶ 17.

         The assistant principal subsequently showed T.S.V. online data and statistics regarding the existence of the achievement gap. Id. ¶ 17. The assistant principal directed T.S.V. to complete a behavioral reflection form, which is used at Expo to help students reflect on their behavior and articulate what they should do in the future if they encounter a similar situation. Id. ¶ 18. T.S.V. stated in the form that she felt hurt, confused, and frustrated by the science teacher's comment and that the incident was “really upsetting.” Id. Ex. B. She also stated that a better thing to do in the future “is to tell my teacher or not even listen.” Id. T.S.V. then returned to class. Id. Ex. A at V ¶ 21.

         That same day, Verrett volunteered for his other child's, also an Expo student, class field trip. Id. ¶ 21. During the field trip, Verrett learned about the incident from another parent. Id. After the field trip, Verrett went back to Expo to find out what happened. Id.

         Verrett encountered the assistant principal in the Expo parking lot. Id. ¶ 22. Verrett told her that he was displeased that Expo had not notified him about the incident. Id. The assistant principal answered a few of Verrett's questions, and told him that Expo would investigate the incident, but said that she could not share all the details at that time due to human resource constraints. Id. Ex. A. at V ¶ 31. The assistant principal then abruptly left to visit a family member in the hospital. Id. Ex. A. at V ¶ 36.

         On June 9, 2017, Expo officials told Verrett and his wife, T.S.V.'s mother, that they would continue their investigation. Id. Ex. A. at V ¶ 37. In mid-June 2017, the Expo principal left Verrett a detailed voicemail ensuring him that similar incidents would not occur at Expo in the future. Id. Ex. A. at V ¶ 39. Verrett also spoke with the assistant superintendent of the District, who assured Verrett that Expo would follow proper procedures and conduct a proper investigation. Id. Ex. A. at V ¶ 38. The assistant superintendent told Verrett he could not disclose exactly what disciplinary actions would be taken. Id. On June 19, 2017, Expo officials privately met with the science teacher, but whether disciplinary action was taken against either the science teacher or assistant principal is not known. Id. Ex. A. at V ¶ 40.

         On June 22, 2017, Verrett's wife asked Expo for an update. Id. Ex. A. at V ¶ 41. The following day, the principal told her that he was unable to share any updates because the investigation was confidential, but he assured her that he would train his staff to better handle comparable situations in the future. Id. Ex. A. at V ¶ 42.

         On July 3, 2017, Verrett's wife proposed the following resolution: (1) the science teacher formally apologize to T.S.V. and her parents; (2) Expo reaffirm its commitment to a positive learning environment free of discrimination; (3) Expo reaffirm best practices including parent notifications; and (4) the science teacher apologize to the parents of the other students in the class. Id. Ex. A. at V ¶ 44. Expo did not agree to the proposal. Id.

         On July 6, 2019, the principal told Verrett's wife that the school would adapt the way in which it notifies parents. Id. Ex. A. at V ¶ 45. Later that day, Verrett's wife told the principal that she did not feel Expo had resolved the incident or accepted responsibility. Id. Ex. A. at V ¶ 46. The principal responded the following day that he intended to address the incident at the appropriate time, but that Expo staff was not under contract during the summer. Id. Ex. A. at V ¶ 47.

         In mid-August 2017, Verrett withdrew T.S.V. from Expo and moved his family approximately an hour away. Id. ¶ 25. In the fall of 2017, T.S.V. and her mother met with Expo officials. Id. At the meeting, the assistant principal stated that T.S.V. asked to see the online data and statistics regarding the achievement gap. Id. Ex. A. at V ¶ 51. T.S.V.'s mother became upset and briefly left the meeting. Id. Ex. A. at V ¶ 52. The science teacher gave T.S.V. candy and a card as an apology, but did not write anything in the card because he reported that he did not have time to do so. Id. Ex. A. at V ¶ 53.

         III. ...

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