The Camden Board of Education has agreed to pay $500,000 to seven students who were forced to eat their lunch off the school floor as “punishment,” according to reports.
What was the offense? Apparently in February 2008, one of the children was told to change the water jug from a cooler and spilled some of the water. Consequently, all 15 students in the predominantly Hispanic class were forced to eat off the floor, while the other students sat at their regular tables. According to Reuters, they weren’t even allowed to have trays, but were told to eat off of thin “paper liners” usually placed on trays. The Courier-Post adds that even students who were absent that day were subject to the “continuing punishment.”
Though the courts found that the incident was not racially motivated, the February 2008 incident reportedly sparked racial tensions in the city between the black and Hispanic populations. The administrator who allegedly ordered the punishment, Theresa Brown, was black and seemingly targeted the Hispanic students with the collective disciplinary action.
“The African American kids were eating at tables, with trays, taunting these Hispanic kids who were forced to eat on the ground,” the students’ lawyer Alan Schorr said.
But that’s not the worst of it.
When one of the children’s teachers, Jose Rivera, found out about what was happening and concluded that the soon-to-retire principal wanted no part of it, he told the children to tell their parents and instructed them on how to contact the school board.
He was summarily dismissed from his position for “conduct unbecoming a board employee,” though after the incident got national press coverage the board changed the reason to “insufficient certification.”
And what of the administrator who ordered the punishment? The school board reportedly transferred her to a vice principal position nearby.
ABC6/WPVI has video of the small protests:
“These kids have a tough enough life without being bullied by their own administration,” Schorr told Fox News. “Hopefully this settlement will give them a head start toward college.”
The lawyer reportedly said little else except that the woman’s continuing employment “speaks for itself.”
Under the settlement, the seven students who decided to take part in the case will split $280,000, and lawyer will get $220,000. Rivera, the teacher who encouraged his students to tell their parents, was previously awarded a $75,000 settlement, $50,000 of which went to Schorr.
The school board did not admit wrongdoing in the settlement, but the DOE rejected Brown’s claim that there simply weren’t enough tables and chairs for the students.
According to the Courier-Post, a number of council members are upset that Brown was transferred to a respectable position nearby, rather than fired.
The now-retired principal commented at the time: “We apologize to the parents. We apologize to the children. We apologize to the community…We’re regretful this action took place in one of our schools.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.