Three Pennsylvania teachers are the focus of a federal lawsuit alleging they engaged in bullying against a fifth-grade student in a conversation inadvertently captured on an answering machine message heard by the girl’s mother.
According to the suit filed by Beth Suhon, her daughter’s teacher called in 2015 to leave a message but failed to disconnect the line before moving on to a cruel private conversation about the disabled student, the New York Post reported.
The teacher and two colleagues at Claysville Elementary School allegedly disparaged the student, mocking her physical appearance and perceived lack of viable career options.
WTAE released the voicemail message, in which one teacher is heard saying that the student’s “teeth are crooked.”
According to the lawsuit, the educators also claimed that the student had “no strengths” and no real prospects upon leaving school.
“She could be a good coal miner,” one teacher said.
According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the student has a developmental disorder known as Turner syndrome.
Suhon said her daughter has repeatedly been the target of bullying by students, noting that the remarks by teachers presented a new challenge.
“It was very difficult for me to tell my child, who has been bullied by her peers for years, that she was now being bullied by her teachers,” she said in an interview with WPVI.
In his court report, special education hearing officer Michael McElligot described the “nearly unfathomable, and frankly heartbreaking” disparagement recorded in the message.
He wrote that the teachers mocked the student’s “mathematics ability, physical appearance, and classroom behavior, punctuating these crass comments with derisive laughter.”
McElligot’s conclusion revealed that the teachers mocked other special-needs students in the recorded remarks.
They engaged in “unconscionable” deprecation of “children who clearly have significant disabilities,” he wrote.
Suhon’s lawsuit names McGuffey School District for alleged discrimination.
In addition to the comments by the teachers, she also mentions the district’s apparent decision to cancel without notice a special education program that could have benefited her daughter. Without that plan, Suhon argues that the girl — who is now in eighth grade — fell further behind her peers.
McElligott presided over a related complaint earlier this year, ruling against the district based on the evidence presented in the voicemail. He sided with the district, however, in response to Suhon’s claim that it displayed “deliberate indifference” in the decision to suspend the special-needs program.
As of the latest reports available, the district had not publicly responded to the lawsuit.
Immediately following the crude remarks left on her answering machine, the mother said she removed her daughter from the school in favor of online classes. The following school year, she said she “reluctantly” decided to re-enroll her in one of the district’s public schools.
Truth and Accuracy
We are committed to truth and accuracy in all of our journalism. Read our editorial standards.