Overkill at New Jersey High School
NEWARK (CN) - New Jersey high school officials and police sent a bomb squad to a disabled student's home and arrested him after seeing his doodles of a superhero glove with a flame coming out of it, the boy's parents claim in court.
The parents, K.J. and T.J., sued the Greater Egg Harbor Regional High School District Board of Education, the school superintendent, principal, other administrators and teacher, that Atlantic County Prosecutor's Office, the Galloway Police Department, et al., in Federal Court.
Their son, K.J. Jr., has Asperger's syndrome and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, the parents say in the 36-page lawsuit. He is, however, "a very gifted child in the areas of chemistry and engineering and likes to do experiments, fix things, build, create, and draw," according to the complaint.
"K.J. expresses himself through his drawings," his parents say. "He doodles at school and that helps him concentrate and focus in class. His IEPs [individual education plans - required by law for students with disabilities] note that he doodles and draws in class."
The fiasco described in this lawsuit began on Dec. 17, 2102 - three days after the massacre at a Newtown, Conn. elementary school.
On Dec. 17, K.J.'s parents say, his geometry teacher, a defendant, "notice a drawing of a spaceman that K.J. was sketching during class."
Late the next day, "K.J. was humiliated when he was called out of class by a school resource officer and the vice principal ... who also served as the director of special education, and K.J. was taken to the vice principal's office," the complaint states.
K.J. parents claim the vice principal "manipulated" their son into showing him the superhero sketch, "coerce(ing)" the boy into believe that he "was genuinely interested in his artwork."
The superhero glove with a flame coming out of it was "an updated version of a drawing" he had been doodling with for two years. What's more, he did it at home, not at school, his parents say.
"Based solely on this coerced re4view of K.J.'s drawings in his sketchbook," he was held in the office and the vice principal, defendant Michael McGhee, called police the family says. Sent to the family home along with police were the Fire Department, emergency medical workers and a bomb squad. The school also summoned bomb-sniffing dogs to go through the campus "causing panic in school and among the community," the complaint states.
Police who searched the family home found "household items such as wires, thermite chemical and some switches , many of which were part of K.J.'s science and engineering homework," according to the lawsuit.
The kid was then sent to a juvenile detention center for 16 days, where he was strip searched and cavity searched. Upon release he was placed on house arrest and had to wear an ankle bracelet for 5 months. He was cleared of criminal charges at or before trial. The school tried to expel him, and still refuses to let him return to class.
The school district also "harassed, intimidated, bullied, retaliated against, and cyber-bullied K.J.," his parents say in the lawsuit.
The family seeks actual damages, statutory damages and punitive damages on 12 counts, including malicious prosecution, intentional infliction of emotional distress, denial of education, discrimination, constitutional violations, deprivation of freedom, harassment, state and federal civil rights violations, and defamation.
Defendants include school superintendent Steve Ciccariello, Cedar Creek High School principal James Reina, and a host of others.
The family is represented by Julie Warshaw, of Warren, N.J.