The Community R-VI School District has found itself on the receiving end of two similar federal lawsuits claiming the district, along with two administrative officials, racially discriminated against a former African-American teacher and her son.
Former 5th grade teacher Shanta Wheeler had her case officially filed on March 5 in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri.
The defendants listed includes the district, Superintendent Cheryl Mack, and former Elementary Principal Natalie Gibson.
Superintendent Mack said she couldn’t comment on the lawsuit as the district had yet to receive any official paperwork on the matter.
Wheeler first filed a charge of discrimination with the Missouri Commission on Human Rights (MCHR) and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) on May 8, 2014.
The charge was later amended due to what she called “additional retaliation.” A Right to Sue Notice was reportedly issued in December 2014.
Wheeler filed the 17-page lawsuit and is seeking compensatory and punitive damages for allegedly being “subjected to a racially discriminatory and hostile work environment.” She also claims she suffered retaliation in response to her opposition to what she calls “unlawful treatment.”
Wheeler was the district’s lone African-American female in the district when she taught 5th grade and had been there for several years.
In the lawsuit, she also claims that parents and nonparents alike were “permitted to come onto school property, where in the mornings, they would heckle and yell” at her when she walked into the building.
She said that parents of the district’s students were permitted to scream at her but she was not allowed to respond or defend herself.
It is alleged that she was treated “less favorably” than the district’s Caucasian employees as she was reportedly forced to “endure inconveniences, interruptions, and hardships because she is African-American.”
Wheeler claimed she was asked to change her location in the building due to the “parental and community discrimination and heckling.” She said the defendants did nothing to stop it.
Wheeler claims that on one occasion she was asked to stop teaching her students until a parent left the premises. She claims no Caucasian employees had similar “humiliating interruptions.”
She was asked to do this because the parent in question allegedly “does not like black people.”
Wheeler claims the district encouraged parents to voice their concerns, which only escalated the “racism, harassment, and discrimination” she was facing.
Some parents said Wheeler abused children and she felt the allegations were false and unwarranted.
While the situation was covered by local media, Wheeler didn’t feel the defendants defended her. The report goes on to say she experienced emotional distress due to the alleged racial discrimination.
Wheeler said it was suggested that she would resign, which she did on May 29, and begin looking for other employment. Her lawsuit goes on to claim Superintendent Mack had opened an emailed resignation letter 30 times while then Principal Gibson allegedly opened it 17 times. This led to Wheeler’s belief that her confidential information was being circulated to others in the district.
At that time, Wheeler said Superintendent Mack allegedly told her she couldn’t ask for any recommendations and that she was the only person who would provide a reference.
Wheeler felt the limitation on a reference pool was retaliation for her own complaints of discrimination.
The lawsuit says Wheeler is suffering and continues to suffer “damages, including lost wages and emotional distress.”
Wheeler’s lawsuit comes nearly one year after parents packed an April board meeting to discuss alleged abuse by Wheeler of a student.
At that time, parents were upset with the district on a letter that was sent home to 5th grade students.
Many didn’t feel anything was discussed with them and that they didn’t know the results of interviews with other children.
They also didn’t like how the letter gave them an option to change district if still opposed to the actions taken by the district involving an alleged situation.
At the time, the letter said the teacher in question is “an experienced teacher as reflected in the students’ test scores and is providing the children with a quality education.”
To protect the student and the teacher, the district elected to add an adult to the teacher’s classroom for the rest of the school year.