Education

Five current and former school employees and one parent have filed a lawsuit against Jefferson County Public School administrators claiming the district has failed to maintain a safe environment. Several of the plaintiffs say school administrators did not respond effectively to alleged assaults committed by students at four JCPS schools: Jeffersontown High School, Fern Creek High School, Seneca High School and Coleridge-Taylor Elementary School.

The plaintiffs are seeking district-wide policy changes in addition to damages. They include:

  • Sharita Bransford, a counselor at Jeffersontown High School
  • Tamera Collins, an attendance clerk at Fern Creek High School
  • Kelly Hinkle, a school resource officer at Fern Creek High School
  • Jane Bragg, a former special education teacher at Coleridge-Taylor Elementary School
  • Dana Vinson, a former special education teacher at Coleridge-Taylor Elementary School
  • Terri Dawson, the parent of a student known as K.C. at Seneca High School

The defendants are school administrators, employees and students at those schools.

The complaint details four separate alleged physical assaults against Bransford, Bragg, Vinson and K.C. committed by students. It also describes the long-term health effects Collins and Hinkle say they suffered after being present during a 2014 shooting at Fern Creek High School.

“What we are trying to achieve is a safe learning educational environment for K.C. and the other 102,000 students of the Jefferson County Public Schools, so they don’t have to go any more in fear of their lives,” attorney Teddy Gordon said in a press conference.

In one case, Bransford claims a student charged at her from behind, jumped on her back and beat her. Another student interfered, causing Bransford to “fly across the hallway, striking her head on the hall floor,” according to the complaint.

Bransford said in a press conference Thursday that other school staff witnessed the attack, which she says lasted four minutes before a school resource officer arrived to intervene.

“I can’t believe that no one helped me,” Bransford said. “That’s the part I can’t get over, that there were staff, adult men, standing watching and doing nothing to help me.”

Bransford said she suffered a concussion as well as other physical and psychological issues stemming from the attack.

Bransford, Collins, Hinkle, Bragg and Vinson claim they have developed post-traumatic stress disorder brought on by unsafe conditions in their schools. The two special education teachers, who taught students with moderate to severe disabilities, say these working conditions compelled them to retire early.

Together, the complaints depict chronic violence or harassment at these schools. Plaintiffs point blame at principals and other school officials, claiming negligence for an insufficient response to, or prevention of, alleged events.

“There are things they could do, but they’re not doing them,” Hinkle said in a press conference, speaking of administrators. “They’re trying to pacify and sweep things under the rug.”

The plaintiffs are demanding district-wide policy changes, asking that JCPS create a declaration of  rights that states all staff and students “are entitled to a safe working and learning environment.” They’re also seeking damages and attorney fees.

Another parent filed a similar lawsuit earlier this week claiming that JCPS administrators were negligent in handling a student assault at Atherton High School, in which one student allegedly lodged a stick in another student’s eye.

When reached for a response, a JCPS spokesperson said the district does not comment on pending litigation.

Featured image: Jeffersontown High School counselor Sharita Bransford (center left) raises a tissue as she recalls being attacked by a student at school at a press conference. She is accompanied by her husband Dwight Bransford and fellow plaintiffs K.C. and Terri Dawson in a lawsuit against Jefferson County Public School employees.

Liz Schlemmer is WFPL's Education and Learning Reporter.