Two parents are suing the Carver public schools for allegedly turning a blind eye while they say their 13-year-old son endured repeated harassment and physical abuse from schoolmates for being Jewish.
Jennyfer Sordillo and Robert Groezinger say their son was the target of anti-Semitic attacks on a daily basis by a group of boys who subjected him to offensive religious slurs and Nazi salutes. They say their son has had pennies thrown at him, been slammed against lockers, and been punched in the head. Most recently, the parents say in the lawsuit filed on behalf of their son, the tormenters drew a swastika in chalk outside their home.
Filed July 30 in US District Court in Boston, the lawsuit alleges that the bullying had been taking place for two years and that school officials “have done nothing to stop it.” The civil court action seeking unspecified damages names the Carver School Department, Superintendent Elizabeth A. Sorrell, Carver Middle High School Principal Scott Knief, and assistant principal Christine Cabral as defendants.
Sorrell was out of her office on Wednesday and Thursday and could not be reached for comment. Knief and Cabral were also out of the office and could not be reached.
Attorney Rebecca L. Bryant, general school counsel for the Carver school district, declined to discuss specifics of the lawsuit.
“The district will respond in court,” she said. “Carver does have extensive policies and procedures in place to address such conduct and routinely does so, and takes these matters very seriously and will continue to do so.”
The suit details events that allegedly took place at Carver Middle High School, including a May 28 incident when Sordillo and Groezinger’s son confronted boys who had thrown chicken nuggets at him at lunch. According to the suit, the boys later approached him in a hallway, knocked his books out of his hands, pushed him against a locker, and punched him in the head, calling him a “dumb Jew.” He was left “with a huge welt on the left side of his head, bruises along his temple, and a headache for the rest of the day,” the suit states.
Carver Police Chief Marc Duphily said his department was notified of the incident and conducted an investigation. Subsequently, two 13-year-old boys were arraigned July 10 in Wareham District Court on charges of civil rights violations, assault and battery, and criminal harassment, he said in a brief phone interview.
Duphily declined to comment further or discuss details . “I can’t at this time,” he said.
Bridget Norton Middleton, a spokeswoman for the Plymouth district attorney’s office, said juvenile court matters are confidential by law, so she would not be able to comment or provide any any information on the case.
The Carver suit comes amid heightened awareness of school bullying. Last week, a former Concord-Carlisle High School student filed suit, claiming she was bullied for a year and a half while administrators ignored her pleas for help. That suit was brought in conjunction with the Massachusetts Anti-Bullying Law, which went into effect in May 2010.
The Carver suit alleges that the plaintiff was repeatedly taunted in the hallways, cafeteria, and classrooms at his school, and called derogatory names such as “Stingy Jew,” “Dirty Jew,” and “Jew Boy.” The suit alleges that some of the boys, identified in the suit by initials, would raise their arms to mimic a Hitler salute when he passed, and one told him, more than once, that he needed to “get in the oven.”
According to the suit, Sordillo accompanied her son to a Halloween event at the school called “Haunted Hallways” when he was in sixth grade. Two boys spotted the plaintiff standing alone there, pushed him against a brick wall, shoved him down, and hit him while calling him derogatory names, the suit says. The boys then stole his wallet, which contained cash. Sordillo confronted the boys and they returned the wallet, but with no cash, according to the lawsuit.
It says Sordillo met with the principal the next Monday to discuss the incident and discuss what could be done. She was told the boys said she assaulted them, and that she was barred from school functions for three months, the suit said. Neither Sordillo nor Groezinger could be reached for comment.
Another incident allegedly took place during a gym class. The lawsuit said a boy was teasing the plaintiff for playing on the B team in the town’s basketball league, saying: “They just hate you because you’re Jewish.” The insults continued during the class and the two ended up fighting, the plaintiff suffering a black eye and a bleeding nose. He was suspended for three days, but the other boy received no punishment, the suit said.
It says that after Sordillo complained repeatedly that her son was being bullied at school, an assistant principal promised to personally monitor the cafeteria to make sure he was OK at lunch. But the only corrective action taken by the school was to allow her son to eat lunch in the assistant principal’s office, according to the lawsuit.
Boston lawyer Joseph L. Sulman, who represents the plaintiff, said his client had been “harassed mercilessly for two years” and school officials did not do enough to prevent it.
“They haven’t done anything,” he said. “We hope the school will begin to address this.”
He said what sets this bullying case apart is intense focus on his client’s religion. The suit says the parents are aware of only one other Jewish student in his class of about 155. “This is not a standard bullying case,” said Sulman. “It’s illegal to discriminate based on religion.”
He said his client will enter eighth grade this fall and the family is unsure what the year will bring. School officials should act so his client can “attend classes without any fear of intimidation or harassment because he’s Jewish,” he said.Emily Sweeney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @emilysweeney.