ALBUQUERQUE – A public high school teacher told a racist joke to her class, called the only black student in it a “black hole,” retaliated against the child when his mother complained, and the school did little or nothing to stop it, the family says in Federal Court.
Lillie Morgan, the parent, claims Sandia High School teacher Mary La Valley asked her class: “Why do black people think about sex all day? I know, because they have pubic hair growing out on their heads.”
Morgan says her son was the only black child in La Valley’s class.
She says her son “immediately reported the incident to his mother but implored her not to say anything about it for fear of bringing more attention to him and fear of retaliation. [He] continued to attend class with Defendant La Valley after the incident and continued to endure the brunt of her jokes.
“As a result of the public embarrassment and racial discrimination, [the child] became confused, embarrassed by his race, more irritable and began to suffer low self-esteem.”
Morgan says La Valley later compounded the insult by calling her 14-year-old son a “black hole” during a class discussion on black holes.
When she complained about the racist behavior to school administrators, La Valley admitted making the jokes, Morgan says in her federal complaint.
“At the meeting, Defendant La Valley admitted to making racial comments and jokes directed at [Morgan’s son,]” according to the complaint. “Defendant La Valley stated that she saw no harm in her comments and jokes. When asked a second time whether she had made the comments she affirmed that she had, in fact, made such comments.
“When asked how such comments were linked to the curriculum, Defendant La Valley left the meeting under the premise that she felt attacked.”
The complaint adds: “Despite said admission, no corrective action was taken against Defendant La Valley. Consequently, Defendant La Valley continued to harass and retaliate against [Morgan’s son].”
After two meetings with school administrators, Morgan says, La Valley continued harassing her son, singling him out “by telling his classmates that ‘[someone] and his parents were trying to get her fired.'” (Brackets in complaint.)
On another occasion, the complaint states, La Valley called school security to escort the student from her classroom, justifying her actions by claiming, via speaker phone, “that the student whose parents are trying to get me fired.”
In a third meeting, with the school principal, La Valley and others, “Once again, Defendant La Valley admitted to making the jokes directed at [Morgan’s son] in class. Defendant La Valley blamed another person for coming up with the jokes but stated she found them humorous,” the complaint states.
Morgan says a student advocate at the meeting recommended that La Valley “take sensitivity training.” She adds: “At the April 10, 2009 meeting no other remedial or corrective action was recommended, suggested or taken by defendant [Michael] Bachicha.” Bachica is the high school principal.
Morgan says her multiple requests to have her son moved removed from La Valley’s class were denied.
Morgan adds: “As a direct result of the disparaging racial comments made by La Valley, and the failure and refusal by APS to address La Valley’s behavior, [her son] lost respect for his teachers and for the school system, He did not want to attend class. Consequently, [his] academic performance declined, and he experienced psychotic episodes for which he was hospitalized.
“Defendants acted with reckless disregard, malice and with the intention of depriving … a minor child of his rights guaranteed by the Constitution, laws and statutes of the United States and by the Constitutions, laws and statutes of the State of New Mexico. Therefore, [the child] is entitled to punitive and compensatory damages.”
Defendants include La Valley, Bachicha, Assistant Principal Esther Keeton and Albuquerque Public Schools. The plaintiffs are represented by Robert Cole.