Discrimination alleged in lawsuit against St. Mark's Cathedral School

Discrimination alleged in lawsuit against St. Mark's Cathedral School

SHREVEPORT, LA (KSLA) - A mother is suing a Shreveport Episcopal private school, claiming her son was wrongfully expelled back in 2014.

The mother doesn't want her face or name shown because she's currently taking St. Mark's Cathedral School to federal court for her son.

In her lawsuit, her son is identified as M.R.

"Because this needs to be heard," she said, "there may be other children or people affected."

According to the lawsuit, from October 6-8, 2014, on a 6th grade field trip to Pine Cove, her son stayed in a cabin with four other St. Mark's male students.

Following the trip, the lawsuit alleges the parent of one of the other students staying with M.R. filed a complaint against him for inappropriate behavior.

In a letter sent to the mother and her attorney by SMCS Chancellor John Reeks, Jr., the father of one of the boys reported M.R. "had inappropriately touched his child," "continuously pulled the shower curtain back to expose one child taking a shower" and "grabbed another boy's private area."

According to the mother, M.R. said those allegations were not true.

"He agreed to that he and several other boys were playing these same type of games, just boy dormitory type behavior, but he was the one that was told on," his mother said.

The lawsuit also states the field trip chaperones "deny that they witnessed any inappropriate conduct by M.R. and instead reported that M.R.'s conduct was appropriate."

"The chaperone spoke highly of him and said that she'd be glad to take him on another field trip, he was so well-behaved," M.R.'s mother said. "Then, overnight, over to the next school day, I get a call about two hours after school starts telling me I need to come in and there's something really bad that's happened and we need to discuss it."

The lawsuit reads two days after the field trip ended, SMCS Head of School, Dr. Chris Carter expelled M.R.

M.R.'s Dismissal or Withdrawal Certificate reads he was expelled for "inappropriate touching of other students when not in the presence of adults."

The mother said SMCS's actions were confusing. A letter sent to her from Dr. Chris Carter on October 21, 2014, 11 days after M.R. was expelled, described M.R. as "very bright and most engaging and a pleasure to his teachers….all incidents involved occurred in less structured settings of off-campus field trips. [M.R.'s] behavior in the classroom setting has been appropriate."

"There's some error in communication or some straight lying going on here and so when I went back to the head person in charge to ask to speak to those chaperones, I was denied access to all of it," said the mother.

The lawsuit claims in a meeting between the mother and Carter, he told her he believed M.R. had been "sexually assaulted" and was "over-sexualized."

"I was outraged. I really was," M.R.'s mother said.

The lawsuit reads the mother tried to readmit M.R. into the school and Carter required a psychological report. According to Chancellor Reeks, Jr.'s letter, Dr. Carter met with members of his staff and told the mother M.R. could remain in school if he received an evaluation by a mental health professional and that it was not unsafe for other children for M.R. to return to school.

"I took it in and said: 'Well, you never can be too careful. Let me further research this and find out from a licensed professional if, in fact, something did happen,'" the mother said.

M.R. underwent several weeks of tests and counseling with psychologists Dr. Ron Goebel and Laura Harris who, according to the lawsuit, discovered no pattern of deviant sexuality. The lawsuit alleges the psychologists claimed "M.R. is no more likely to engage in sexually abusive acts than any other 12-year-old boy."

"Based on her findings, she said: 'I saw nothing even remotely close to symptoms of a child who had been sexually abused or that was sexually abusive towards other kids," the mother said.

In a letter sent to the mother in September of 2015, Carter wrote M.R.'s readmission was denied, claiming the psychological report doesn't change his past violations of St. Mark's codes which Carter claimed also included forging a parent's signature, lying to a teacher, cheating on a test and stealing another student's drink at lunch.

The mother filed the lawsuit one month later in October 2015.

She wants to know: If Carter believed these sexual acts were done, then why wasn't the Mandatory Reporter Law followed?

"By the law, if you even suspected that, first and foremost, you have to report it," she said.

Louisiana State Law Revised Statute 14:403 requires teachers and child care providers to report any child abuse to authorities.

According to the Attorney General's Office, willfully not doing so is a felony.

Both the Shreveport Police Department and Caddo Parish Sheriff's Office told KSLA News 12 they did not receive any reports about M.R. or any sexual abuse at SMCS in 2014.

Carter denied our request for an interview as did his attorney, Edwin Byrd.

When we asked Byrd about the Mandatory Reporter Law, Byrd said they would not comment, but did give the below statement:

"….All matters related to that student were addressed appropriately, fairly and in the best interests of all concerned, but it is not appropriate for St. Mark's or Dr. Carter to provide additional details regarding the student in this setting."

Attorneys for SMCS said M.R. was expelled purely because of his behavior and to protect the other students, but his mother said he interacts with the same children every week at St. Mark's Cathedral next door.

"He rings bells for the church. He sings in the choir. He's a member of the EYC youth group," his mother said. "Bells he attends with the accused person's son. Had any of the accusations been true, then my son wouldn't be allowed to participate in these separate entities on the church side."

The mother's lawsuit calls for a jury trial, suing both Carter and SMCS for six counts.

1. Disability Discrimination against M.R.'s struggles with ADHD, which the lawsuit claims the school was made aware of before he was enrolled.

2. Breach of Contract. The lawsuit claims the defendants failed to follow procedure for disciplinary infractions as outlined in the school's own handbook.

3. Violation of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, alleging Carter violated the act when he discussed M.R.'s situation with other parents at school without the mother's authorization.

4. Disparate Treatment.

5. Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress, citing emotional distress suffered by M.R. as a result of his dismissal from SMCS due to "false reasons."

6. Defamation.

His mother said she wants M.R. to have another chance at SMCS without being targeted. She said the quality of education at the school challenged M.R. and helped him to succeed, but this expulsion has hurt him.

"He's still scarred by this, very much so," she said. "He feels like maybe he shouldn't have played with the other boys because he was singled out when everyone was kind of horse-playing around the same way."

The mother said she's not doing this for the money because she claims she's not out any.

Five months before M.R.'s expulsion, an SMCS letter to his mother obtained by KSLA News 12 reads he was approved for more than $9,053 in financial aid.

His mother said she was E-mailed by student insurance company Dewar that, after expelling M.R., SMCS still was reimbursed more than $5,649.12 in insurance on his tuition.

"Yeah, they still benefited from him," she said.

The mother said she wants her lawsuit to focus on the leadership of SMCS before any other children go through what hers did.

"He put my son out of school because of it and yet he failed to report something that was such a strong allegation that could possibly hinder my son elsewhere in life or defame his whole character at all," she said.

The mother said M.R. is currently studying at a different school now.

The scheduling conference for the lawsuit's day in court was held Thursday morning.

The Attorney General's Office reports any violation of the Mandatory Reporter Law is handled by the local district attorney's office.

Copyright 2016 KSLA. All rights reserved.