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Racial Intolerance Claims Spread to Rural Missouri

ST. LOUIS (CN) - Fueling claims that the racial tensions dogging Ferguson thrive across Missouri, a teacher claims in Federal Court that one school district kowtowed to an intolerant community, including one parent who "does not like black people."

Shanta Wheeler claims the school district in Laddonia, Mo., acknowledged the racism from "the parents, the community, and the [school] district," and asked her to resign because "the parents, community, and Community School District had such a problem" with race.

Wheeler sued the Community R-VI School District, Community Superintendent Cheryl Mack and Community Elementary School Principal Natalie Gibson on March 5. She filed a parallel complaint on behalf of her John Doe son.

Wheeler says she was the lone black teacher in the predominantly white district and the district's only fifth-grade teacher.

The school district serves 340 students from pre-K through grade 12. Laddonia, (pop. 508), 105 miles northwest of St. Louis, is 98.4 percent white, according to

Wheeler claims that she was subjected to years of racism at her job, for instance:

- being yelled at and heckled as she walked into the building;

- parents being allowed to scream at her;

- being prohibited to respond to or defend herself from the screaming parents;

- being asked to stop teaching her class until a parent left the building, because that parent "does not like black people."

She claims the school district interrupted her class on behalf of that racist parent, and that "(n)o Caucasian employees had to endure similarly humiliating classroom interruptions."

Wheeler says the district encouraged parents to voice any concerns they had about her, while not doing the same for white teachers, and that its ratification of the parents' actions escalated the racism she faced.

"Plaintiff was told that race is obviously a problem for the parents, the community, and the district," the complaint states. "Because the parents, community, and Community School District had such a problem, plaintiff was asked to resign."

Wheeler claims the racism culminated in false reports of abuse from parents that were forwarded to the Division of Family Services.

"Defendants acknowledged that these allegations are racially motivated," the complaint states. "However, defendants have failed to protect or defend plaintiff."

Wheeler claims the defendants did not provide her with details of the abuse allegations, leaving her unable to defend herself, and that the district did not defend her when the abuse allegations hit the media.

Due to the racism, Wheeler says, she resigned in May 2014. And she says the defendants retaliated against her for complaining about the racism by ordering that only Superintendent Mack could give her a recommendation for her job hunt.

Mack told Courthouse News that the defendants have not been served with the lawsuit, and have no comment.

Wheeler seeks damages for Title VII violations, racial discrimination and retaliation.

In her son's lawsuit, she claims that the district and its officials did nothing to stop her son's physical and verbal harassment, making it difficult or impossible to participate in school activities.

Both lawsuits were filed by Sophie Woodworth, with Holman Schiavone, in Kansas City, Mo.

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