Updated September 29, 2020 - 4:58 pm
A parent and former Clark County School District teacher filed a federal lawsuit Friday alleging the district failed to take adequate action in response to a classmate bullying and threatening her daughter.
Michelle Cox filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court against the school district and two Garehime Elementary School administrators — principal Ryan Lewis and assistant principal Jorge Palacios.
Attorney Jason Bach with the Bach Law Firm in Las Vegas — who’s representing Cox — said Monday that the lawsuit is an attempt to provide Cox and her daughter “with justice the school district was unable to provide her.”
An unfortunate series of events caused severe damage to Cox’s daughter and cost Cox her career as a teacher, Bach said.
In a Tuesday email to the Review-Journal, the school district said it doesn’t comment on pending litigation.
In the complaint, Cox alleges her rights were violated under the First Amendment, and Family and Medical Leave Act. And she says her daughter’s rights were violated under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act, “as well as state law claims for negligence and intentional infliction of emotional distress.”
Cox, who was a teacher at Garehime Elementary in northwest Las Vegas during the 2018-19 school year, claims the school district failed over nearly two years to respond to reports of bullying and threats made against her daughter — referred to in court documents as M.C. — by a fifth-grade classmate, “L.”
On Nov. 30, 2018, L. threatened M.C., telling her, “When I am older, I’m going to murder somebody. Somebody that used to annoy me, somebody like you,” according to the complaint. M.C. reported the threat to her teacher.
M.C.’s teacher submitted a report online to the school district “which should have immediately initiated a bullying investigation” under school district policy and state law, according to court documents.
When Cox complained about the way the reports were being handled, the school district and school administrators retaliated against her, the complaint alleges.
Cox said the school district failed to protect her daughter from “foreseeable harm” and consistently took action to place the girl in danger and close proximity to her bully “thereby causing and then exacerbating severe emotional distress,” according to the complaint.
M.C. developed severe anxiety and depression, and CCSD didn’t take action to identify her as a student with a disability under Section 504 or provide accommodations “until Mrs. Cox specifically asked them to do so and, even then, failed to provide necessary accommodations and modifications, instead discriminating against M.C. and forcing her to withdraw from two separate schools,” the complaint alleges.
Cox took FMLA leave — which was approved by the school district — to address her daughter’s medical needs. The district “consistently interfered with Mrs. Cox’s ability to take the leave, forcing her to perform work while out and penalizing her for taking leave, and then forcing her to resign by refusing to provide her further leave,” according to the complaint.
The complaint also alleges that school district and Garehime Elementary knew L. had “significant behavioral difficulties, including behaviors that posed a safety threat to other students.”
In October 2019, Cox emailed a school board trustee after months of attempting to get the outcome of an investigation. An assistant superintendent was assigned to investigate.
In a letter from January, the assistant superintendent wrote that her findings regarding the November 2018 incident were in agreement with the classroom teacher’s original “threat to student report,” according to court documents. She said school administrators didn’t conduct an investigation or make an evaluation regarding a threat assessment.
She said she disagreed with the school administrators’ “unsubstantiated” finding to the SafeVoice complaint, saying she found the bullying allegation to be substantiated and that school administrators didn’t conduct an adequate investigation and didn’t completely follow the bullying protocol.
The assistant superintendent also noted in the letter: “Furthermore, the school created the climate and conditions to perpetuate the presence of bullying,” according to court documents.
She told Cox the school district would require a corrective action plan from Garehime’s administrators, but the school district wouldn’t specify which actions were taken. The complaint alleges “upon information and belief” that no disciplinary action was taken against Lewis or Palacios.