Teacher Says School Administrators Failed to Warn Her of Death Threat

By LAURA BITTNER

(CN) – A high school Spanish teacher in Onslow County, North Carolina claims in court that her principal and school board failed to tell her she was the subject of a death threat made by a pair of students.

In a complaint filed in the Eastern District of North Carolina, Carman Swaso says that on Sunday, Oct. 17, 2010, a male student at Onslow County’s Jacksonville High School posted a death threat on Facebook against the school’s principal, Dr. Donna Lynch.

A female student then commented on the post, saying “Make sure you shoot Ms. Swaso.”

Swaso says she had no knowledge of this online conversation as she arrived at work the next day, Oct. 18, nor that the attack was supposed to take place that day.

She says as she walked to her class that Monday, she noticed some police cars outside the school and realized the staff members she usually saw in the office where not there.

Once in her classroom, Swaso says she was instructed to close her blinds, but to keep the door to her classroom unlocked and the window on the classroom door uncovered.

She says at this point she also realized that most of her students were absent.

Finally, Swaso says, she asked her assistant principal what was going on but learned nothing of the specific nature of the threat.

According to the lawsuit, several members of the school administration and the district school board were aware of the threat — in fact, many of them had kept their own children from school that day — but no one told Swaso her life might be in danger.

She says she didn’t learn the whole truth until the next day when Lynch showed her the Facebook post and comment.

Swaso claims she wasn’t told of the threat because she of Hispanic and African American descent and the two students involved are white.

Swaso says Lynch asked her to allow the student who requested that she be shot to remain in her classroom, and also asked that she meet with the student so the teenager could apologize to her. Swaso says she stated she preferred the student not remain in her classroom.

Lynch asked of Swaso again the following day to let the student apologize, and Swaso says she again emphatically declined.

Meanwhile, the male student who made the initial threat was placed in the Onslow County Learning Center for the rest of the school year.

Eventually, the complaint says, the female student was suspended for three days, but when she returned to school was placed in a classroom directly across from the hall from Swaso’s room.

The teacher says she has suffered from high blood pressure, sleeping issues and anxiety-like symptoms ever since the incident, and that she had to take time off to deal with these conditions.

At this point, she says, the district said she could not return to work, a decision she also believes was racially motivated.

Swaso sued the district, but U.S. District Judge Louise Flanagan dismissed the case for failure to state a claim.

Swaso is seeking injunctive relief and compensatory damages.

She is represented by Geraldine Sumter of Ferguson, Chambers & Sumter PA in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Representatives of the school district could not be reached for comment.