Civil rights lawsuit claims ex-teacher called student 'monkey' - WSMV Channel 4

Civil rights lawsuit claims ex-teacher called student 'monkey'

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A high school teacher is being sued in federal court, accused of violating a student's civil rights.

The lawsuit claims recently dismissed Spanish teacher Julietta Lopez-Starr called a black student an offensive word during class at Portland High School.

The student contends his teacher constantly singled him out along with other black students, and his parents say they went to the school - even went to the Sumner County school board - but nothing was done.

Now, their federal civil rights violation lawsuit seeks a half-million dollars.

Last year, when the student we'll call "I.W." walked into the classroom, he says Lopez-Starr told him, "We are going to have a problem."

"This is a young man near the top of his class academically, a good student, and it became obvious there was no way he would ever get on the good side of this teacher from day one," said attorney Larry Crain.

I.W. says Lopez-Starr actually called him and other black students "monkeys" and that the whole class noticed.

"Whenever a white student would take up for these students and say, 'Why are you picking on them? Is it because they're black?' The teacher would say, 'Absolutely, yes, it's because they are black.' So, there's just no place in our schools for that type of conduct," Crain said.

Lopez-Starr was let go after the lawsuit was filed, but the school board will not confirm or deny a reason because she didn't have tenure.

Channel 4 News also contacted Lopez-Starr by phone and she said she absolutely had no comment on the lawsuit or the situation.

Crain says the school board is being sued because it is as responsible as the teacher.

"In fact, at one point, the parents approached one of the board members and said, 'Please help us. We've gone to the principal, and he's not doing anything. Could you please help us?' And still no action was taken," Crain said.

We checked out Lopez-Starr's personnel file with the county. While at Westmoreland High School, she was disciplined for "losing control of her emotions while teaching and, thus, compromising her position as the educational leader in the classroom."

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