Education

As the school year comes to a close, Louisville attorney Teddy Gordon filed another suit this week against Jefferson County Public Schools employees.

Gordon is representing at least 11 active cases filed in Jefferson Civil Circuit Court against administrators at Jefferson County Public Schools, all filed since 2016. Gordon’s latest case alleges that administrators at Coleridge-Taylor Montessori Elementary failed to respond adequately to complaints that a first grade student repeatedly sexually harassed a third grader in the same mixed-age classroom.

JCPS declined to comment on the case, citing their policy not to talk about pending litigation.

Cases against JCPS officials make up just under half of Gordon’s active case load, according to his media relations manager Honi Goldman. Gordon also famously defeated JCPS in a landmark school integration case in 2007, in which the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the district’s student assignment plan. Lately, he has taken on cases accusing JCPS administrators with negligence in responding to student behavior.

Litigation Against Schools Appears To Take A New Trend, Expert Says

“It’s not that unusual to have a law firm that continually sues a large district,” said Michael Dorn, executive director of Safe Haven International.

Dorn is a national expert in school safety, and often consults school districts in safety procedures and frequently serves as an expert witness in lawsuits against schools.

Although Dorn has not conducted any study of school litigation, he said in his career he has seen a general trend of more instances of plaintiffs suing schools for not responding to student violence or misconduct.

“That’s been an area that we’ve seen significant change in the past five, six, seven years,” Dorn said, adding that the seeming increase in lawsuits has coincided with federal pressure on schools to reduce suspensions and expulsions.

To reduce the threat of litigation, Dorn advises school districts to create strong policies for how to respond to safety issues, then train and regularly test school staff to ensure they know how to respond when problems arise.

“And most schools don’t do that,” Dorn said.

Complaint Charges Failure To Respond To Sexual Harassment

The plaintiffs in the complaint filed Tuesday are Chi-Minh and Katina Jackson, acting on behalf of their 9-year-old daughter. At a news conference, Katina Jackson said the principal and assistant principal at Coleridge-Taylor failed to respond to her concerns about a student who repeatedly harassed her daughter with sexual comments and other incidents of “bullying” throughout the school year.

“All I wanted was him removed from my daughter’s classroom,” Jackson said, explaining that when she complained, her daughter’s seat was moved within the class.

According to the complaint, the school officials did not discipline the student for once pushing Jackson’s daughter out of her seat, and another time for putting paint on her coat.

Jackson said the classmate made sexual comments to her daughter, including a request for oral sex. Her daughter was confused and is now in therapy, Jackson said. She described her daughter’s recent behavior as “slightly aggressive” and “a little withdrawn.”

“This has just been an overwhelming school year, for both of us,” Jackson said.

Jackson said she told her daughter’s teacher about these incidents, and the teacher planned to monitor the student, but the situation did not improve. According to Jackson, when she complained that the student pushed her daughter from a chair, school officials told her the incident did not fit the district’s definition of bullying.

JCPS policy defines bullying as “repeated, deliberate physical, verbal, or social attacks or intimidation directed toward another person” and differentiates bullying from occasional peer conflict.

Gordon, the attorney, said in the Tuesday news conference announcing the lawsuit that he expects to continue filing suits against JCPS as long as parents come forward with complaints against the district for failing to respond to safety issues.

“Next school year, as soon as I hear about it which will be the first day of school, I guarantee you we will file another lawsuit to protect all the students of Jefferson County Public Schools so none of them have to walk through hell,” Gordon said.

In February, Gordon filed a class-action lawsuit against JCPS administrators that argues school officials have not maintained a safe environment for students and staff and have failed to respond to complaints of violence or harassment committed by students on school grounds. Gordon said he originally sought to add his latest plaintiff to that lawsuit, but did not as the plaintiffs in that case at this time are all school employees.

“Put me out of business,” Gordon said, directing his remarks at JCPS. “Stop it all. Protect these children as soon as they enter the school year and throughout. If you have a complaint, act upon it.”

The plaintiffs seek a restraining order against the student, who is listed as a defendant alongside the students’ teacher, principal and assistant principal. The case also seeks damages and attorney fees.

Liz Schlemmer is WFPL's Education and Learning Reporter.