District removed from civil rights case

North Elementary School, Watertown. Watertown Daily Times

WATERTOWN — The Watertown City School District and its school board members have been dismissed from a federal lawsuit brought by a mother who claims her son’s civil rights were violated when he was forced to participate in a “slave auction” at North Elementary School.

Nicole Dayes, the mother of a then-10-year-old Black child identified as Z.D. in court documents, filed suit in U.S. District Court, Albany, in August 2020 against the city school district, as well as former fourth-grade teacher Patricia A. Bailey for alleged civil rights violations and negligence.

It is alleged in the complaint that Mrs. Bailey “conducted a mock slave auction” in her class in May 2019 and that she “singled out Z.D. and one other African-American student in the class to serve as the ‘slaves’ for the auction.” The teacher then allegedly “directed two Caucasian students in the class to participate in the auction” and to bid on and act as “masters” to Z.D. and his classmate.

Ms. Dayes claims in her action that the instruction violated Z.D.’s civil rights and that he suffered “psychological injuries, pain and suffering, mental anguish, and extreme emotional distress” as a result.

Mrs. Bailey filed a third-party complaint and cross claim against the district, Superintendent Patricia B. LaBarr and the board, contending, among other things, that statements made about the situation by Mrs. LaBarr and others damaged her reputation and negatively affected her job status.

In a 60-page decision issued Sept. 27, Judge Gary L. Sharpe dismissed each claim brought by Ms. Dayes and Mrs. Bailey against the district and its personnel.

In her suit, Mrs. Dayes argued that the district was grossly negligent in providing no or inadequate training to Mrs. Bailey regarding racial discrimination, racial harassment and racially hostile education environments in the classroom. Judge Sharpe wrote that to succeed on such a due process claim, the district’s actions would need to rise a level that is “conscience-shocking,” which he noted, citing case law, requires a high level of proof to sustain.

“These allegations do not plausibly allege that the District acted in a manner that is arbitrary, conscience-shocking, or oppressive to make out a valid substantive due process claim,” the judge wrote in his decision.

He also rejected equal protection claims that the district, while not intentionally discriminating against Z.D., showed “deliberate indifference” to reports of alleged discrimination or harassment.

“Here, there are no allegations of the District’s direct participation in the alleged mock slave auction conducted by Bailey, which is the basis of Dayes’ equal protection claim,” Judge Sharpe wrote. “Indeed, as to the alleged mock slave auction, there are no facts plausibly establishing that the District was personally involved in administering this lesson, nonetheless in a discriminatory manner, and there are no facts plausibly establishing that the District treated Z.D. differently compared with others similarly situated.”

He also dismissed claims that the district was negligent in its training or supervision of Mrs. Bailey, as well as claims by Mrs. Bailey that Mrs. LaBarr or board members made defamatory statements about her. He said, among other things, that a statement about the incident released by Mrs. LaBarr did not mention Mrs. Bailey by name nor otherwise identify her and did not reflect on her professional capabilities as a teacher.

The judge also dismissed Ms. Dayes’s due process claim against Mrs. Bailey, ruling that it is duplicative of a more specific equal protection claim and that the claims each arose from the same set of circumstances. The equal protection claim is now the sole claim remaining against Mrs. Bailey.

Mrs. Bailey also has a third-party action pending against the district’s insurance carrier over the question of whether the insurer will indemnify her in the event a judgment is entered against her.

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