A lawyer representing the parent of a child in Carole Van Erven’s fourth grade class at Northeast Academy has filed a letter of intent to sue the town.
The letter, filed April 11, names the town, the Board of Education, Superintendent Paul Kadri, Northeast Academy Principal Paul Esposito, Assistant Principal Judith A. Leonard and teacher Van Erven in a potential suit.
Lawyer James Hall, representing the mother of a child in the class, alleges the teacher used her “position of power and authority in the classroom to repeatedly bully students” by ordering them
Superintendent Paul Kadri said Friday he has "strong disagreement" with the facts outlined in the letter.
He said anyone can sue for anything, and it carries no indication of guilt or innocence.
“What I said from the beginning is there are set procedures which, in order to maintain safety in our schools, we follow. And in this case, they were followed to the letter. And the conclusions we came to had no gray areas,” he said.
Kadri said if a parent or citizen feels the administration has not done its job, the citizen may file a complaint with the board of education, and this was not done.
“I feel bad that we were not able to bring everyone a sense of comfort," he said. "We did our best."
The letter contends students were told to hold paper towels in their mouths for as long as the teacher determined was necessary “to publicly punish, ridicule and humiliate the student in the presence of other students.”
In past interviews, Kadri has said students were not instructed to crumple paper towels, but to hold them between their lips, keeping their mouths closed. He said school officials investigated, the teacher apologized, and the action was a mistake but not a fireable offense.
Van Erven, who has taught for more than 20 years, has declined to speak publicly about what happened. She was placed on paid administrative leave in March.
The letter says the incidents, which took place from Jan. 8 until Feb. 29, violated state law in that they constituted “negligent” and or “reckless” and or “intentional acts of endangering a minor, abusive behavior, unwanted touching, assault and battery, negligent infliction of emotional distress, intentional infliction of emotional distress, false imprisonment,” and violated the constitutional right to privacy.
The letter also says the students, including the fourth grade child Hall is representing, were left in Van Erven’s class while the school investigated during school hours in about the first two weeks of March.
The letter alleges that the teacher questioned the students about what was asked of them and what they said about her.
Hall adds in the letter that the school department failed to properly record past complaints about Van Erven in her personnel file, and to discipline her for prior behaviors.