William E. Cleary Sr. | CNBNews
WEST DEPTFORD, NJ (Gloucestercitynews.net)--The parents of a Red Bank Elementary School student has filed a lawsuit against West Deptford School District, Steven Crispin, school superintendent; Jill Sheetz, principal of the Red Bank Elementary School; Melissa Churchill, a lunch playground clerical
aide; the West Deptford Board of Education, and, John Does 1-20.
According to the court documents, David and Brittney Jowett alleged that the defendants created a danger that caused harm and led to an assault of their child, eight-year-old S.J, a student at Red Bank Elementary School on May 29, 2019.
The court documents allege:
Many of the children who attended Red Bank Elementary School referred to Churchill as “Apples” and invited her to sit and have lunch with them even though school board policy prohibited Churchill from sitting and having lunch with students while she was supposed to be monitoring student behavior in the lunchroom, she routinely did so.
S.J and her classmates, who were sitting at lunch table across the cafeteria from where Churchill was sitting, wanted “Apples” to sit at their table, so S.J. approached Churchill with that request. In response Churchill told S.J. that she would move to her table only ifS.J. scratched her back first.
S.J. did not want to scratch Churchill’s back, so she rubbed her knee against it. As soon as she did that, Churchill rose to her feet in a fit of anger and grabbed S.J. by the arm. While holding S.J. by the forearm, Churchill violently dragged S.J. through the cafeteria, threatening her with detention and discipline. Churchill did so in the presence of Jane Does 11-20, other LPCs who did not intervene or attempt to prevent the abusive conduct.
Immediately following the violent assault in the cafeteria, Churchill dragged S.J. in the school foyer situated directly in front of the main office and principal’s office. In the foyer, Churchill forced S.J. into a chair and restrained her in the chair, by placing both of her hands on S.J.’s shoulder, standing over her and blocking S.J. from leaving or standing up.
S.J. was subjected to Churchill’s abusive and violent rage without interference from any other district employee despite their duty to do so.While Churchill continued to restrain S.J., she also continued to threaten the child that she was going to report her to the principal. After 10 minutes Churchill simply sent S.J. back to her classroom.
Upon information and belief, another Board employee who observed Churchill restraining S.J. in the foyer reported her observations to principal Sheetz. Later that day, Sheetz called S.J. into her office to to find out what happened.
Despite the existence of video surveillance of the cafeteria and foyer which recorded the incident, Sheetz attempted to manipulate S.J. by telling her she wasn’t in trouble, even though S.J. had done nothing wrong and that the incident would remain between them.Hours later, even though Sheetz had video evidence available to her which established that S.J. had done nothing wrong and that Churchill had assaulted S.J., Sheetz called her parentsand informed them that S.J. had kicked a custodian but that she had spoken with both of them and the issue was resolved.
Sheetz did not disclose that Churchill had assaulted, or even touched S.J. Sheetz claimed that S.J. begged her not to tell Plaintiffs what happened.
Upon learning of Churchill’s assault, Plaintiffs met with Sheetz to discuss the false and misleading information that Sheetz had provided. Crispin failed to respond to any of plaintiffs’ request to meet.
At the meeting on May 31, 2019, Sheetz gave further false information that S.J. and Churchill were sitting together “scratching each others’ backs” and that S.J. kicked Churchill, despite the video evidence showing none of that happened.Following that meeting, Defendant Sheetz communicated to the Plaintiffs that the conduct of Churchill was so disturbing and upsetting that Churchill was terminated.
Prior to February 1, 2018, the District had employed Churchill as a care giver at its Young Eagles after school care program, during which time Churchill behaved inappropriately and aggressively toward children.Instead of terminating her, and despite its knowledge that she presented a danger to children the District transferred Churchill to the Red Bank School as an LP.C. aide.
After the described attack on May 30, 2019, S.J. attended school on May 31, and June 3, 2019 and then due to the emotional distress, fear and anxiety remained out of school for homebound instruction from the beginning of June through the end of the school year. S.J. was blamed by her friends for getting “Apples” fired.
The Jowett's are seeking compensatory and punitive damages, attorney fees; and grant other such releases as the court deems necessary and appropriate.
Jacqueline M. Vigilante Esquire, of the Vigilante Law Firm, Mullica Hill is representing the plaintiffs.
The lawsuit was filed on September 23, 2020, in U.S. District Court, Camden City, NJ.
Related: JOWETT v. CHURCHILL (1:20-cv-13083)