Federal Civil Rights Lawsuit Filed Against SVSD Alleges Racial Discrimination

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UPDATE: On June 6, 2017, the following statement about the pending lawsuit was released by Hellertown Borough Manager Cathy Hartranft: “The Borough has received a notice from the Plaintiff of (the) voluntary dismissing (of) all claims against the Borough of Hellertown.”

A federal civil rights lawsuit that’s been filed against Saucon Valley School District and numerous other parties alleges that two students–both minors–rights’ were violated because of racial discrimination and denial of equal protection on the basis of race.

“Plaintiffs, Kerry and Sheila MacLean, individually and as husband and wife are the parents and natural guardians of Plaintiffs, J.L.M. and E.M., bring this action for monetary damages and other appropriate relief to redress the intentional violations of Plaintiffs’ civil rights, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§1981, 1983, 1985, 1988, Title VI and Title IX of the Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. §2000d et seq., secured under the laws of the United States provisions of the laws of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, against Saucon Valley School District, and Saucon Valley High School, collectively referred to as Defendants,” the suit filed in  filed in U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, by Schakopflaw LLC of Bala Cynwyd, Montgomery County, states.

It further states, “Plaintiffs’ action also arises under the Civil Rights Acts of 1871, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 1981, 1983, 1985, 1988, Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. §2000d et seq., the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution of the United States, for race discrimination, and denial of equal protection on the basis of race.”

Also named as defendants in the suit filed by the MacLeans, of Meadow Ridge Court, Lower Saucon Township, are the Borough of Hellertown, Northampton County, Saucon Valley Middle School, former Saucon Valley High School principal Eric D. Kahler, current acting high school principal Kenneth Napaver, Saucon Valley Middle School principal Pamela J. Bernardo, former Saucon Valley High School assistant principal Lori Gamble, current assistant middle school principal Thomas Halcisak and parties referred to as “John Does 1-10.”

Among the acts alleged to have occurred, which the suit claims violated the civil rights of J.L.M. and E.M., and enumerates under Operative Facts, are the following:

  • “Plaintiff J.L.M. has been the victim of verbal abuse and threats of physical violence since he began attending Saucon Valley Middle School and now at Saucon Valley High School.”
  • “Plaintiff E.M. has been the victim of verbal abuse and and threats of physical violence since he began attending Saucon Valley Middle School.”
  • “Plaintiffs, J.L.M. and E.M. have been called names such as ‘coon,’ ‘nigger’ and ‘jungle bunny.'”
  • An alleged incident in which J.L.M. attended a middle school dance and texted his father, Kerry MacLean, to tell him that another student identified as J.W.–who, according to the suit, had previously told J.L.M. he wanted to fight him “because of the color of his skin”–wanted to fight him in Dimmick Park, Hellertown, “so they would not be caught fighting in school.” Kerry MacLean drove to the school, according to the lawsuit, and spoke to assistant principal Thomas Halcisak about what was going on. “Mr. Halcisak located both boys and pulled them into an office and made the boys shake hands and call a truce, but failed to address the ongoing threats made toward J.L.M.,” it states.
  • An alleged May 2014 incident in which a middle school cafeteria worker approached J.L.M. and asked him to “turn out his pockets.” It is alleged that “the worker then proceeded to ‘pat down’ J.L.M.’s pockets, physically touching J.L.M. without his permission.” When J.L.M. questioned why he was being searched, the suit states that he was told another student (“A.V.”) who had previously allegedly used racial epithets in conversations with J.L.M., “had accused J.L.M. of stealing and told the worker.”
  • “A recent attempt by Dr. Monica McHale-Small, Superintendent, to limit the display of the Confederate flag on school property is being met with resistance by the school board.”

The suit, which is 53 pages long, also lists as evidence the response the MacLeans’ and other parents received from school board member Edward Inghrim at a March 28, 2017 board meeting to a request they made for support in combating racism and bigotry at the school and protection for their children from it.

After Kerry MacLean spoke to the board that night, Inghrim responded by speaking in defense of the First Amendment, the suit–which uses an article published by Saucon Source and identified as “Exhibit E” as evidence–states.

The following is an excerpt from the article:

Board member Ed Inghrim told parents Kerry and Sheila MacLean that if their family–which includes two sons, in high school and middle school, respectively–“can’t handle this day-to-day bigotry, then it’s your problem.”

Inghrim said he traces his lineage back to an ancestor who traveled to America in the early 1600s on the Mayflower, and said it is not the government’s responsibility to tell people “what they can say and what they cannot say.”

“I would suggest that what you say to your kids is, ‘hang in there and deal with it, Inghrim said.”

The suit appears to contain some factual and/or typographical errors.

Bernardo and Gamble are both erroneously referred to using masculine pronouns in the filing.

And the statement that “defendant, Saucon Valley High School, is a high school within the SVSD located in the Borough of Hellertown,” is false, because the school is located in Lower Saucon Township–a different municipality–as is Saucon Valley Middle School and the surrounding Saucon Valley School District campus.

Lower Saucon Township is not named as a defendant in the lawsuit.

When asked about the decision to include the Borough of Hellertown as a defendant in the lawsuit, borough council president Tom Rieger said Monday, “I can confirm the Borough received this today and it was forwarded to both the Borough Solicitor and insurance carrier, who will handle it appropriately. As (is) customary, we do not comment on pending litigation.”

The statement that “defendant, Lori Gamble, is an adult individual, who at all times relevant and material to the issues in this case is the Assistant Principal at Saucon Valley High School, and is being sued in his official and individual capacities,” would also appear to be erroneous, since Gamble resigned at the start of 2015-2016 school year and has not been employed by the school district since that time.

To read the full text of the lawsuit, click here.

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