Published August 14, 2012
A New Jersey school board has agreed to pay seven former fifth-graders a total of $500,000 for a 2009 incident in which their dean bizarrely ordered them to eat lunch off the cafeteria floor for 10 straight school days, according to the attorney who represented the students.
Fifteen or 16 students -- there is disagreement over the exact number -- at Camden's Charles Sumner Elementary School were forced into the extraordinary action in 2008 by Vice Principal Theresa Brown after a classmate mistakenly spilled a water jug on the floor while re-filling a water cooler, the lawsuit states.
"These kids have a tough enough life without being bullied by their own administration," their attorney, Alan Schorr, told FoxNews.com Tuesday. "Hopefully this settlement will give them a head start toward college."
Brown later told state investigators probing the incident that the draconian punishment was actually a product of not having enough cafeteria chairs and trays to accommodate the kids. State officials eventually abandoned that excuse, according to The Camden Courier Post.
Some of the students were actually absent on the day of the spill, but were made to eat lunch off the cafeteria floor when they returned, while other classmates sat at traditional lunch tables.
According to the 2010 lawsuit, the unfortunate pupils were not even permitted to use trays while they dined on the dusty and dirty cafeteria ground. They were, however, given tray liners, the suit says.
Each of the seven students named in the suit will receive about $31,500 apiece, with a hefty chunk going toward legal fees. At least one of the other students involved privately settled with the board, and many did not take part in the legal action, according to sources who spoke with FoxNews.com.
The state Department of Education later reportedly found Brown's peculiar form of penance for the water spill a “recurring practice” at the school due to the “failures of the school administration and lunch room supervision,” The Post reported.
However, in this case, it seems the coverup was almost as bad as Brown's crime.
After the first day, Brown told the 15 students -- all of Hispanic descent -- that she would extend their stay on the cafeteria floor if they alerted anyone to what she had made them do. But a parent found out, and came to the school two weeks after the stretch of 10 days-on-the-floor concluded.
At that point, The Courier Post reports that the school's principal, Alex DeFlavis, who is white, refused to speak with the Hispanic parent. Instead, Schorr said a school secretary handed the parent off to Jose Rivera.
It was Rivera's bilingual class that was made to sit on the cafeteria floor, although the Hispanic teacher was out sick on the day that the water-cooler spill occurred. A substitute teacher was covering his class.
Sensing that the principal wanted no part of it and after hearing the parent out, Rivera subsequently coached his students during class to have their parents contact Camden County School Board members about what had taken place in the cafeteria. Two days later, he was fired, according to Schorr, for conduct unbecoming a teacher.
Rivera, who was in his third year at Sumner at the time, filed suit, and settled in October 2009 for $75,000, according to Schorr, who also represented him. Rivera is currently a teacher at a different Camden elementary school, the attorney said.
The board voted to reassign Brown to a vice principal post at Camden High School, sources told FoxNews.com.
The incident involving the African-American Brown, the now-retired DeFlavis, who is white, and a classroom of Hispanic children has strained racial tensions in multiethnic Camden, according to the Courier Post.