School district, ex-teacher sued over ‘slave auction’

School district, ex-teacher sued over ‘slave auction’

WATERTOWN, N.Y. (WWNY) - The mother of a Watertown school district student is suing the district and his fourth grade teacher in federal court, claiming a mock ‘slave auction’ last year violated his civil rights.

The lawsuit filed by a lawyer representing Nicole Dayes and her son seeks money and a declaration that the teacher and school district violated the child’s rights.

A lawyer who represented the now-retired teacher, Patricia Bailey, in the past had no comment Friday afternoon. Bailey filed legal papers saying she was attempting to get a lawyer from the teachers’ union, but failing in that needed time to retain her own lawyer.

In their answer to the lawsuit, lawyers for the city school district deny the charges against the district, and claim that Bailey acted in violation of the school district’s rules. Essentially, the school district blames Bailey.

The lawsuit reprises much of what was already known about the slave auction incident at North Elementary School, which was widely reported in 2019.

The lawsuit claims Bailey singled out Dayes’s son and another African-American student to serve as slaves, and instructed them to “stand in front of the class while their classmates yelled out numbers to bid on them.”

Bailey “instructed them that, if this were a real auction, they would be shackled, they would be naked, and that their legs would be broken if they tried to escape,” according to the lawsuit.

Bailey “further instructed them that once purchased, they would have to take the last name of their new “owner” and would have to refer to their owner as master,” again according to the lawsuit.

As a result, Dayes’s son suffered “dropping grades, loss of interest in school and serious psychological effects reflected in his statements that he wanted to change his race and was made to feel that being African-American was a disgrace.”

The lawsuit makes two arguments - that Bailey did the wrong thing by conducting the slave auction, and that the school district is also responsible since it employed her.

“The means chosen by Defendant Bailey to teach about the issue of slavery in the United States was clearly extreme and disproportionate to any pedagogical purpose and reflects racial malice, callousness and deliberate indifference to the rights of” Dayes’s son.

Dayes’s lawyer writes “The School District did not engage in any oversight or supervision” of Bailey and did not provide “adequate training...regarding racial discrimination, harassment or hostile educational environment in the classroom."

The lawsuit also accuses the school district of failing to deal with the incident; “no issuance of a formal statement denouncing Defendant Bailey’s conduct, and no adequate disciplinary action against Defendant Bailey.”

The lawsuit was filed August 20, 10 days after the state Attorney General completed an investigation into the incident. The Attorney General concluded the incident “had a profoundly negative effect on all students present, especially the African American students" and required the school district to take a number of steps dealing with cultural and racial diversity.

Although Bailey’s lawyer had no comment Friday, in August Bailey said she was never contacted to tell her side of the story.

She said she never told a student to refer to another student as “master,” and said “I am heartbroken to read these distortions of the truth which disparage me and have discredited my career in this process.”

In their response, the school district’s lawyers write “Whatever damages or injuries are alleged...those damages and/or injuries are the result of the fault, want of care, and/or intentional conduct, and/or negligence on the part of Co-Defendant Bailey, and not through any fault, want of care or intentional conduct or negligence on the part of the Watertown City School District."

The school district’s lawyers seek to have Bailey pay the school district’s share of the damages, if the school district is held responsible.

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