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Lawsuit filed after fight at Normandy High School and student suspension is withdrawn

Entrance to Normandy High School campus
Google Maps screen capture
The gates of Normandy High School, one of the institutions in the Normandy School District.

Updated at 2:16 p.m. Wednesday with withdrawal of suit: The mother of a student at Normandy High School who filed suit in federal court challenging the suspension of her daughter after a fight at the school last month, which involved adults as well as students, has withdrawn her suit.

The lawsuit filed on behalf of Jennifer Williams and her daughter, a freshman  identified only by the initials J.M., says she “was summarily barred from attendance at the school without notice of a hearing and for no substantive fault of her own” after the fight on May 23. But her lawyer, Robert Herman, said Wednesday that because alternative arrangements for her daughter's education have been made, the lawsuit has been withdrawn.

Sharifah Sims-Williams, a spokeswoman for the district, said she could not discuss the case in detail because it involves a minor and because a lawsuit has been filed. She said two women have been charged with assault as a result of the incident, including one who gained entrance to the school because she was a parent of a student there.

She also said that the fight followed the admission of women to the high school who “misled” employees about their reason for being there.

As a result of the fight, Sims-Williams added, the Normandy Schools Collaborative is reviewing its security procedures.

“We want parents to come to the school,” she said. “We want parents to be involved in their students education, but because of this situation we’re going to have to take a look at that and see how we do that. We’ll have to look at how adults come into the school buildings. We’ll have to look at who we allow.

“But this is an isolated incident. We haven’t had any issues all year, and this is the kind of thing that, unfortunately, we’ll have to look at everyone differently now.”

The lawsuit claims that the suspension of J.M. is an unconstitutional violation of her right to an education. Further, it says, she “has suffered humiliation, and emotional harm from being subject to the unprovoked assault, the loss of her education, the exclusion from the remainder of the school year, the denial of the ability to sit for the final exams, the denial of her right to complete the classes, and to progress with her class.”

Normandy’s school year ends this coming Friday.

“J.M. is and was not responsible for the fight,” the suit says, “which occurred as a result of adults who were allowed free access to the school classroom for the purpose of assaulting children in the care of the Normandy School [sic] Collaborative.”

Adults in the school

In a letter dated June 2 from Williams’ lawyer to Normandy Superintendent Charles Pearson and Richard Ryffel, president of the district’s Joint Executive Governing Board, details of the fight at the high school are described this way:

Five adults, including two women and three men, entered the school grounds and were allowed to “move throughout the building without security or supervision. The two women and a junior student, who was apparently related to them, initiated fights with students outside of [J.M.]’s classroom, while the three men who came in with them stood near the stairway so that anyone trying to leave the third floor would have to pass them.”

The fight took place during a sixth-period computer class on the third floor of the high school, the letter said.

Because she was suspended, the letter added, “the NSC has now deprived [J.M.] of an education altogether, again without explanation. After the day of the assault, Principal Carl Imhof told [J.M.] that she should stay home from school until she heard from him. She has now missed eight days of school and heard nothing.”

The letter demands a safe place for J.M. to receive an education, “whether that be at the school with significant increased and adequate security, at home, or in another location,” as well as the opportunity to make up work that she has missed and the opportunity to take necessary tests.

Sims-Williams said in an interview that the women mentioned in the letter and the lawsuit presented ID to school personnel and were escorted to their destination, but “these people took advantage of the situation” and gave incorrect information about the purpose of their visit.

She said she could not comment on who instigated the fight, which the lawsuit says went on for 10 minutes before school personnel broke it up. She said no weapons were involved.

“The health and safety of our students is our number one priority,” Sims-Williams said. “This appears to be an isolated incident involving adults. However, our security team is working with local law enforcement to gather all the facts from the parties. This is an ongoing investigation.

“With the fact finding, we will do a top-to-bottom review of our safety procedures and compare them to the best practices of other districts to ensure our students are safe in our campuses and in our buildings.”

Follow Dale on Twitter: @dalesinger

Dale Singer began his career in professional journalism in 1969 by talking his way into a summer vacation replacement job at the now-defunct United Press International bureau in St. Louis; he later joined UPI full-time in 1972. Eight years later, he moved to the Post-Dispatch, where for the next 28-plus years he was a business reporter and editor, a Metro reporter specializing in education, assistant editor of the Editorial Page for 10 years and finally news editor of the newspaper's website. In September of 2008, he joined the staff of the Beacon, where he reported primarily on education. In addition to practicing journalism, Dale has been an adjunct professor at University College at Washington U. He and his wife live in west St. Louis County with their spoiled Bichon, Teddy. They have two adult daughters, who have followed them into the word business as a communications manager and a website editor, and three grandchildren. Dale reported for St. Louis Public Radio from 2013 to 2016.