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Man Sues Springfield School District in Alleged Racist Incident

Springfield, Vt. — A parent has filed a federal lawsuit against the Springfield, Vt. School District, alleging that a teacher’s aide uttered a racist slur and threatened violence against his sixth grade son, and that fellow staffers did not follow school policies in reporting the incident.

The allegations in Christopher Meyers’ lawsuit suit mirror those contained in a report issued last year by the U.S. Department of Education, which found that Riverside Middle School violated civil rights laws in May and June 2010 and ordered the school to pay for counseling on behalf of the African-American student, who no longer lives in the area

On May 21, 2010, Meyers’ son and a white student were playing with yardsticks during a homeroom period. Teacher’s aide Michael Laplante, who had been left in charge of the class, threatened to shove the yardstick into the boy and “turn him into a fudgesicle,” according to court documents. He then told the boy to sit down, but did not give similar instructions to the white student, according to the lawsuit.

Additionally, Meyers alleged that, on three other occasions between 2009 and 2010, Laplante used “unjustifiable force,” against his son, once pulling the back of his shirt and dragging him across a room, according to the lawsuit.

School staffers did not report the incident for several weeks, the lawsuit said, and lacked training to deal with incidents of harassment and inappropriate comments.

In the lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Rutland, Meyers cited several counts against the school, including maintaining a racially hostile environment, negligence, and failure to train employees. He requested unspecified punitive and compensatory damages.

Meyers’ attorney, Brian Marsicovetere of White River Junction, declined to comment yesterday.

The School District has not filed a written response in court and a hearing has not been scheduled.

Interim Superintendent Zachary McLaughlin did not respond to a message seeking comment yesterday

Laplante , did not respond to a message seeking comment yesterday.

Laplante told a sixth-grade teacher about his alleged remarks to Meyers’ son, but the teacher failed to report the incident to higher-ups, according to the lawsuit

It was not until June 17 that the sixth-grade teacher, who eventually told a staff member who had been designated to receive complaints about staff conduct.

Meyers said he believed the “fudgesicle” comment referred to his son’s race — he was one of two black students among a student body of 318 — and he filed a complaint with the Department of Education’s Civil Right’s Office in Boston shortly after the alleged incident, which determined that the district did not have adequate procedures or staff training to handle such incidents.

In August 2010, the civil rights office issued a report stating the school had violated civil rights laws and had reached a settlement in which it agreed to pay nearly $3,000 in counseling services for the student and to increase regulations and training for employees.

The Meyers family moved to Georgia after the incident and could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Federal investigators interviewed two minority staff members at the school, who “spoke positively of the climate of the school,” and said they had not witnessed or experienced discrimination, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

Mark Davis can be reached at mcdavis@vnews.com or 603-727-3304.