By Jamie Vinson/Editor
Eastern and two Model Laboratory school employees have been named in a lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court in Lexington Jan. 16.James and Carol Stutts of Berea filed the suit to address discrimination they say Eastern, Jacqueline Vance, director of Model, and Ellen Rini, Model school psychologist, committed against their 14-year-old son, an eighth-grade student at Model. Model is owned and operated by Eastern.
In the multi-million dollar suit, the couple are seeking punitive and compensatory damages from the three defendants for a failure to provide their son “his basic rights as a disabled person and be treated equally among his peers,” according to the suit.
The couple allege in the suit that during the past three years Model students, teachers and administrators “have repeatedly harassed, physically abused and displayed discriminatory behavior toward S.S.” The couple’s son, who reportedly suffers from a number of physical and mental disabilities, is named S.S. throughout the suit because he is a minor.
The couple further allege that “despite repeated and frequent requests by S.S. and S.S.’s parents for intervention, officials at the Model School, including all named defendants … have done nothing to protect S.S. As a result, S.S. has developed numerous anxiety-related disorders, and has been effectively deprived of a fair and equitable education.”
The suit also includes a chronological outline of the alleged instances of harassment and abuse, beginning in August 2000 and continuing through November 2002. Several events were reported to Eastern’s Division of Public Safety.
For instance, on April 29, 2002, the suit states “a student, who on several prior occasions had harassed S.S., attacked S.S. and shoved his head through a glass display case in the school’s cafeteria.”
According to the suit, the couple’s son was taken to the emergency room for injuries. The couple said they filed a report with Eastern police, who conducted an investigation, but “despite the seriousness of the incident, school officials failed to protect S.S. and put an end to the abuse and harassment. Further, school officials punished S.S. by excluding him from a scheduled class field trip,” according to the suit.
Director of Public Safety Tom Lindquist confirmed that Eastern police have investigated allegations of assault and threats involving students at Model, but could not comment on specific cases.
“Because all of these incidents involved juveniles, I can’t release any information we have in our files without a court order,” Lindquist said.
Both Vance and Rini declined comment. University President Joanne Glasser said Eastern also typically does not comment on “the particulars of matters of litigation.”
“In this case, however, I can say that we do everything possible at Eastern Kentucky University and Model Laboratory School to provide access to educational opportunities without regard to disability or any other factor,” Glasser said via e-mail.
Monday the Stutts referred all questions to Dale Golden and Christopher Turner, attorneys from Golden & Walters PLLC in Lexington, who are handling the case. Neither could be reached for comment.
University Counsel Kacey Coleman told The Progress Monday “the university and Model do deny that they, or any individual acting on their behalf, have violated the statutory rights asserted in the complaint.”
Coleman said Eastern will file an answer to the couple’s complaint.