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Suit Alleges Anti-Semitic Harassment At Northport High School

Civil rights suit by parent accuses Superintendent McDermott, Principal Irene McLaughlin of Inaction; district attorney denies charges.

Parents of a student filed a lawsuit against the school earlier this week alleging that officials did not do enough to stop anti-Semitic bullying against their son after it was reported.

On Tuesday evening, the Northport BOE officially retained attorney Adam Kleinberg, of Sokoloff Stern to defend Superintendent Marylou McDermott and Northport High School Principal Irene McLaughlin in a civil action suit filed by Manhattan attorney Chaim Book on behalf of East Northport parent Robert Slade and his son.

The complaint alleges "severe, persistent, and violent harassment" that the former ninth grader endured between November 2010 and June 2011, consisting of "some of the most hate-filled, anti-Semitic slurs imaginable."

"We vehemently deny the allegations of the complaint," Kleinberg said on Thursday afternoon. "We intend to litigate this with all the seriousness it deserves. The school officials acted appropriately at the time and will continue to act appropriately."

According to the suit, the boy was subjected to routine anti-Semitic insults by up to as many as 15-20 students. In addition to verbal taunting, the students also posted anti-Semitic slurs on Facebook.

In January 2011, the student wrote an essay for his English class entitled "Anti-Semitism" in which he stated that he loves being Jewish but that "it gets lonely in school." According to the suit, he recounted two incidents he had experienced and concluded "Anti-Semitism does exsist (sic) in Northport, (and) I'm a Key victim."

According to the complaint, the teacher never contacted the parents about the essay's contents, and school officials took no action.

In May 2011, after the parents became aware of the full extent of the bullying, they gave a list of the anti-Semitic jokes to McDermott and McLaughlin, who said they would deliver a message regarding tolerance and instruct Social Studies teachers to discuss the issue in class. The plaintiff does not believe those actions ever took place.

Two weeks later, McLaughlin and a social worker met with the student. McLaughlin allegedly told him "that he should consider what the bullies were going through at home, but offered no further assistance."

In June the student was allegedly physically harassed by two students, which was witnessed by a teacher who reprimanded the students but took no action. The student returned to the same teacher the next day and was told that the incident would be reported to the assistant principal. According to the complaint, neither the parents or their son was contacted after that.

The anti-Semitic slurs also allegedly took place during track practice and were reported to McLaughlin by the social worker. According to the complaint, no action was taken to address the situation.

During the summer, the names of the individual students who had been harassing the ninth grader were provided to school district officials. No action was taken, even though Board of Education Policy 5300, titled Public Conduct on School Property, states, "No person, either alone or with others, shall: (5) intimidate, harass, or discriminate against any person on the basis of race, color, creed, national origin, religion, age, gender, sexual orientation or disability." Under that policy, "the district shall initiate disciplinary action against any student or staff member, as appropriate."

In the Fall of 2011, the parents enrolled their son in a private school.

The plaintiff has requested a trial by jury seeking the following: A declaration that the defendants violated his son's rights under the Fourteenth Amendment; compensatory and punitive damages for violation of state, civil, and human rights laws; the remedying of the situation by the school district, and attorney's fees and costs associated with the litigation.

Book said, "We believe that our client was harassed and seriously mistreated by many students at Northport High School because of his religion and that the school and school district officials were deliberately indifferent to the harassment despite being put on notice about the harassment. The school and school district did not fulfill their duties to provide a safe school environment that is free of illegal discrimination, and we plan to vigorously pursue our client's rights in this matter."

Patch reached Anita Slade on Friday, though she declined comment.

Northport Patch will continue to follow this story.

Concerned Citizen May 19, 2012 at 11:19 AM
You would also want to create separation between the district's regular counsel and the defense of allegations against employees. For example, if the allegations are found to be credible, the BOE would then take action to remove the employees that are protected by tenure, in the case of the Principal, and contractually with the Superintendent. If that were the case, the BOE would use I.S. to file the charges for dismissal. On another note, the suit against the district would be covered by insurance, so all the frustrated taxpayers on this blog need to keep their respective pants on... I hate that every issue is turned into a case where you believe someone just stole your lunch money. Enough already. This is a much more serious issue... Careers are at stake, reputations, and a child felt bullied and emotionally burdened to go to school.
Nick Folger May 19, 2012 at 02:38 PM
@ Concerned Citizen Who pays for the insurance premiums and later increases for claims due to risk adjustments? The money to pay for any of this, including the legal fees if this goes to trial doesn't fall out of the sky. That is right, careers, reputations, and just one's well being is all at stake. But you can't igore the monetary cost either that results from an alleged failure to execute policy.
Concerned Citizen May 19, 2012 at 08:29 PM
I understand that Nick, but you do not know how this will turn out or what premiums will be paid. IT is getting tiresome to continually to make everything about money and talk about Northport staf like they are corrupt members of a gangster hit squad... I have to tell you, it is making the Patch a less desirable read every day.
Debbie Sullivan May 19, 2012 at 08:57 PM
Per the district clerk, the attorney was appointed through the insurance carrier NYSIR. Here's the motion that the Board approved Tuesday: NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that the Board of Education hereby agrees to defend and indemnify the above named employees and designates Adam Kleinberg of Sokoloff Stern, L.L.P. or such other law firm as may hereinafter be appointed by the District’s insurance carrier, to represent the individual defendants in addition to the District in the above-referenced lawsuit.
FYI May 19, 2012 at 10:37 PM
As with all allegations, they must be proven. If you've ever been accused of doing something you were innocent of, your rights under the law might be your only protection against all those here that would like to hang you based on allegations alone. Regardless, McLaughlin is in so deep over her head that anyone could do a more respectable job.
Dad of Three May 20, 2012 at 04:47 AM
N'ptr's statement of "McLaughlin is in so deep over her head that anyone could do a more respectable job." seems totally baseless and a really cheap shot. His/her observations that allegations must be proven, however, are right on target. On the other hand, regardless of whether or not this particular incident presents an appropriate litigation need, I have witnessed in my former district a tendency to sweep problems under the rug, rather than aggressively deal with bullying. I'm not saying that this was the case here in Northport, but I have seen it too frequently before.
Dad of Three May 20, 2012 at 04:50 AM
That report from Debbie Sullivan about the insurance carrier being the determinant of how to litigate this matter places the attorney pot shots in a most appropriate light. Thanks for that timely and accurate information.
karen from East Northport May 20, 2012 at 11:53 PM
I agree that the administration in our High School is awful. But unless we take the time to write letters of complaint nothing will ever change. I've said before on the Patch that Irene Mcloughlin is in way over her head. She herself is a bully. And,. I am glad that this student has the courage to do what's right. Bullies in the Northport District have no fear because there are no real consequences.Just like parents really have no rights. I remember when my 1st grader came home from school and told me how if I yelled at him or threatened him or sent him to his room without dinner it was child abuse and he was told to call 911. Good old Ocean Avenue. If you don't like what you're paying for, please take the time to write a letter.We need positive change in our school leadership. Do you think they are reading this? I hope so.
karen from East Northport May 21, 2012 at 12:54 AM
To the dad of three: Dad of Three 12:47 am on Sunday, May 20, 2012 N'ptr's statement of "McLaughlin is in so deep over her head that anyone could do a more respectable job." seems totally baseless and a really cheap shot. Well Dad of three you haven't got a clue what this woman is like behind closed doors. I can honestly tell you that she lied to me. She doesn't play fair and she certainly doesn't deserve to be in the position she's in. I've actually had teachers who work under her tell me she has very poor decision skills. And, one poor decision in regards to a student can do ever lasting damage.
Thunder Buddies May 21, 2012 at 11:09 PM
The child being bullied - with teachers witnessing it and reports seemingly not being followed-up on - is just unacceptable. The district sets policies! They are so proud of those policies, but it's all bureacratic bs. All these policies are either letting the staff off the hook, or prohibiting them from getting involved and doing the right thing...protect the student! A minor. A child. It's terrible.
FYI May 22, 2012 at 01:45 PM
Thank you Karen. I see that we have had similar encounters with McLaughlin. My direct long-term observations of McLaughlin"s ineffectiveness always leaves me wondering exactly how she managed to get this job. And I agree with every assertion you write of based on my own experience.
Sarah Kunkel May 22, 2012 at 03:01 PM
Sad all around. I would hope that in truth this is more a case of poor judgment than real hate. Either way not a good thing. I see how kids talk to each other and the influence of the hip hop culture on white suburban males. Very sad. Question is how we help our youth recapture their culture and value it so they do not feel the need to adopt another culture. Hope this has a better ending.
eliza May 25, 2012 at 03:37 PM
After reading all the comments I have to say what I know and how I feel. First of all, I am catholic and lived my whole life in a jewish area. I was bullied when I was growing up in an all jewish area for being catholic. It was horrible, and I feel for any child that is taunted and miserable every day when they go to school. When I got married I lived in a jewish area, but this time my husband was jewish and our kids were raised catholic. Both my kids were miseable in school because they were called half breeds.....i.f they wanted you catholic they liked you, if they wanted you jewish they liked you. I wish I could turn it around for all these kids. The anti -semetism in Northport is bad. I moved here a while ago and it is like living where I grew up. Fifty years and it is still going on for everyone. I truly believe that it all starts in the home. Being ignorant and not tolerant of people's beliefs is what makes this world what it is. The bullying on a daily basis, religion , the school's attitude about it all, needs to be stopped. As parents, we should be doing more for our kids. I think everyone should take a step back and realize that our kids learn prejudice first in the home. So STOP and make our kids tolerant so they can be healthy ,happy kids. Too much misery and suicide for the kids of today..... let's all help and be good to one another.
NEIL KLEIN May 25, 2012 at 06:15 PM
I AM SORRY FOR ANY DECENT UPRIGHT PERSON WHO GETS BULLIED!!! I AM THANKFUL THAT YOU ADMIT THAT NORTHPORT IS VEHEMENTLY ANTI JEWISH TO THIS DAY!!!!
Jane Lee May 27, 2012 at 03:48 AM
I don't understand something why are we the taxpayers paying for legal counsel to represent the Superintendent and the Principal in legal action. Why are they not required to obtain their own legal counsel. This was never done in the past why now? It seems everytime the Superintendent gets into a fix she rewrites the bylaws to protect her herself.
Jane Lee May 27, 2012 at 04:05 AM
It has come to my attention that the Supererintendent puchased 493,000.00 dollars worth of computers for the teachers without Board approval or without puting sealed bids out for them. Also all district phones have been replaced with internet phones again I cannot find any sealed bids for these phones or board approvals. Someone told me when asked the Superintendent said she had made the decision on her own. This is suppose to be done through due process.
Concerned Citizen May 27, 2012 at 04:09 AM
As long as the district itself is being named in the suit, it will have to defend. However, if there cmes a time that the district concurs with the alegations and wants to separate from the individuals, they will actually bring charges (for dismissal, not criminal) against the employees. I would bet that the district is doing their own investigation and NYSUT lawyers are already circling the wagons around the employees.
Goin' Commando May 27, 2012 at 05:46 AM
For Jane Lee, since you do not PERSONALLY know this, it would be most appropriate for you to state such contentions much more carefully. Clearly "someone" has told you, but that does not make it correct; people do exaggerate, and people sometimes misunderstand or make projections based upon what another "someone" has told them, and, yes, sometimes people even lie. If I recall, no purchase of an amount even close to the number you have cited would be binding on the district without approval by the board. Certainly a district official, such as a director of technology, or an assistant superintendent for business, or even a superintendent, could explore such a purchase, and might even get some estimates, but that is not a "purchase." Be careful when "someone" tells you something. If you have questions, you should contact the BOE President, directly.
John C May 27, 2012 at 11:56 AM
Jane lee, you sound like a very ignorant person with an axe to grind. Before you spout off about the business of our district, you should take the time to find out the facts. So many ill-informed people commenting here are giving our community a bad wrap.
Concerned Citizen May 27, 2012 at 12:25 PM
Items such as computers are generally purchased through BOCES via State contracts; hence, bids are not necessary. Furthermore, it is very unlikely that the superintendent made a purchase of this size without approval by the Board of Education. Local politics can get very ugly and usually take advantage of those who are less informed... Try not to become a pawn in the game of ugly politics.
Jane Lee May 28, 2012 at 02:57 AM
I know for a fact the District did not put out bids and that is a general business practice. It has always been done that way. The problem with our district is our Superintendent is running our district as if she was the CEO of a company which she is not. She has told board members to sit down and shut up as well as taxpayers. She cannot make decisions on her own without putting everything through the Board of Education. I know for a fact that she did not even ask the teachers if they wanted this let alone go thru the board. It was quoted in the Observer that She said herself "It was my decision to buy the computers" and the price was 493,000 because the Director of Business came out and said so. So I quess I do know what I am taking about
Goin' Commando May 28, 2012 at 06:06 AM
Ms. Lee, I am no apologist for Marylou McDermott, but you and I must have attended different Northport BOE meetings over the years, as I have never seen her tell people to "sit down and sit up", and I find it patently absurd for you to say that she has even told board members, in general, to "sit down and shut up." Also, I don't get the Observer (as I canceled my subscription two years ago, due to the idiotic letters they continually publish; they are the mirror opposite of The Long-Islander, which seems to generally publish primarily moronic PR pieces from politicians), so I did not see the article to which you are referring. Therefore, would you please quote the five sentences before, and the five sentences after, the core sentence to which you are referring? I can understand how she could make a decision that "x" would be the right thing to do, and I understand how any superintendent (and not just Northport's) makes recommendations to his/her BOE to take a particular action, but I cannot understand how she could take any action not delegated to her by Northport's BOE voting in public session. Without that kind of specific validation, I'm afraid that I can't take your comments seriously. You can claim what you like, but only the verifiable facts matter.
Debbie Sullivan May 28, 2012 at 07:45 PM
Hi Jane, I think the quote you're remembering was actually McDermott saying that it was her decision to get the Netbooks to all the teachers, even though the wi-fi wasn't completely rolled out. It was discussed at the 12/7 BOE meeting. The cost is $487,000, with $130,000 spent this year -- that was also discussed at the meeting by the trustees: "Both McDermott and Waldenburg said the goal was to get the laptops into teachers hands early so they could begin to work with them while the wi-fi rollout was completed. McDermott asked for patience, and said that the decision to make sure all teachers received laptops was hers. “It was about respect for the entire faculty,” she said, adding that it would have been unfair not to distribute Smartboards and laptops to all teachers. Some Board members expressed surprise that the teachers seemed caught off guard about the impending technology initiatives. Trustee Jennifer Thompson said she remembered painstakingly discussing the topic at earlier Board meetings. McNaughton said that it was important to remember that the “half a million” she kept hearing people repeat about the cost of the Netbooks is actually $487,000 spread out over five years, with $130,000 being spent in the current school year." Here's the full link to the article: http://northport.patch.com/articles/northport-teachers-have-their-say
janelee May 28, 2012 at 09:12 PM
The Fact remains why is not such purchases discussed with the taxpayers before hand especially such a large amount! Any and all purchases should be made public by yes board meetings and also flyers emails etc. She can purchase computers but can't fix the tennis courts and lets the grounds go. and tells the maintance dept to cut down on the mowing to save on gas! While she purchased the computers the teachers were without a contract, I am sure they would have much rather have had a contract and know there job was secure than to have new lap top computers. In todays times unless things are absolutly necessary they should not be purchased period!!
Goin' Commando May 29, 2012 at 12:19 AM
A Big "Thank You" to Debbie Sullivan for pointing out errors in the wild and irresponsible contentions by Jane Lee. Your Patch citation was spot on target. For Ms. Lee, the Superintendent does not need to ask for your approval or mine; she needs the BOE's approval, and our role as citizens is to determine, by our votes, who are elected to the BOE.
jill May 29, 2012 at 01:48 AM
goin commando, Have a safe & Healthy summer!!
janelee June 16, 2012 at 02:47 AM
Goin commando, Have not heard from you in a while how are things going? How are you feeling? I hope good. Having a safe & healthy Summer?
jane July 03, 2012 at 12:44 PM
well I'm guessing this is why, though I have begged many times for a very important meeting with her over at least 4 calls concerning my childs well being, I was told she knows of the situation. Only when I asked what she planned to do about it and that I wanted to speak with her was I told she would return call 4X. Guess what. As serious as I thought the matter, even possibly a legal matter, she never returned the call. I guess I am not alone in thinking she doesn't care. I hope she is now enjoying her time. I will still be persuing these situations. Yes there were two. Both concerning bullying teachers, who also have not agreed to even have a discussion before it escalated to this point.
jane July 16, 2012 at 09:14 PM
Well finally got my conversation and felt like i was the bad guy by the end. Everyone is saying write if you have issues. Write to who???? She thinks she is all that and i would love to let someone know what she has done. And she isn't even the original problem! It seems the more you want to stick up for your child and you actually have facts that may incriminate a teacher or at least bears looking into, then no one wants to speak with you any longer. So again, who can you write to, is there anyone beyond the district??
Roy February 14, 2013 at 04:09 AM
I'm on the other side of America, near the Pacific coast. And it gratifies me to see all the folks in Northport distancing themselves from Jew hatred. And yet the problem remains--confused with a bad administrator.

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