Chinese charter school settles lawsuit with family

  • The Pioneer Valley Chinese Immersion Charter School. —GOOGLE MAPS

Staff Writer
Published: 3/2/2019 12:23:19 AM

This article was updated to reflect that the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education received documentation in December 2012 from the state Department of Children and Families determining that allegations of neglect of a student by PVCICS staff members were unsupported and reversed, according to a 2016 letter from DESE’s former commissioner to the school. 

NORTHAMPTON — The Pioneer Valley Chinese Immersion Charter School has settled a lawsuit brought by a Hadley family claiming the school was negligent and traumatized their son when it punished him in 2011.

Ellen Roy and Lyle Upright brought the case on behalf of their son, a former student at the school whom the Gazette is not naming because he is a minor. The lawsuit alleged that in 2011, when their son was 9, he was unjustly disciplined for an incident others said was an accident, including an all-day in-school suspension without his parents first being notified.

Michael Aleo, the lawyer representing the family, told Judge Richard Carey during Friday’s session in Hampshire Superior Court that the settlement would go to the former student, who turns 18 this year. 

The settlement, which was reached through mediation, includes a negotiated confidentiality agreement, and Carey placed it under seal on Friday. Aleo and Brian O’Connell, the school’s lawyer, both declined to comment after court adjourned on Friday.

The Department of Children and Families and the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education investigated the allegations in 2011, concluding there was “reasonable cause” to support allegations of neglect. The report led to the suspensions of the school’s principal and a teacher on June 6, 2011. Both were reinstated a week later by the school’s board of trustees. 

In December 2012, DESE’s Charter School Office received documentation from the state Department of Children and Families determining that the findings of neglect were unsupported and reversed, according to a June 2016 letter from former DESE Commissioner Mitchell D. Chester to PVCICS.  

The punishment in question stemmed from three separate incidents, according to the lawsuit: when the child was accused of hitting a first-grade girl on March 23, and then the next day pushing a student in the school’s bathroom and pouring water on another student.

Prior to those accusations, the child had been commended for good behavior, according to the lawsuit, which also states that those who witnessed the water incident said it was an accident.

Roy was informed of the two accusations on March 24, but was not told about the first incident, which involved the child of a teacher at the school, nor that any other disciplinary action would be taken against her son, the lawsuit states.

During a March 24 meeting at the school with Principal Kathleen Wang, Roy and the child, Wang allegedly told the student he was a “‘bad boy,’ that if he were older the school would have called the police, and that his grandfather would be ashamed of him,” according to the lawsuit.

“He was afraid the police were coming for him and wanted to know whether his grandfather still loved him,” the lawsuit states.

On the following day, March 25, t  he child was placed in a small room all day long as punishment, unable to leave for lunch or any other activities, and a teacher allegedly hit him on the arm when he asked if he could see his friends, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit states that the family’s child “suffered emotional damages, including post-traumatic stress disorder,” after the ordeal. Roy was never told that the school would discipline her son and only heard about the in-school suspension when she picked her son up from school and he broke down in tears telling her about it, according to the lawsuit. 

Dusty Christensen can be reached at dchristensen@gazettenet.com.


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