Parents of IMSA student suspended for what school called a hate crime file lawsuit

The parents of an Illinois Math and Science Academy student suspended five days - for what a school attorney termed a hate crime involving a dark-skinned doll with a noose around its neck that was found in a student lounge - have filed a lawsuit.

They are asking for a Kane County judge to review the case and, if it is overturned, to have the student's record expunged. The student, whose name and gender have not been released, is identified as "John Doe" in the lawsuit.

The lawsuit, which was filed this month, argues the student found the doll in the student lounge with a pink, felt strip around its neck and pinned it to a cork board. Days later, the suit argues, the doll had been taken down but later reaffixed by someone else and then reported to officials at the Aurora-based school.

School officials say Doe's conduct was egregious, caused fear on campus and that the suspension was proper.

"Hanging a dark-skinned doll by the neck in a student lounge is a classic depiction of racial hatred and a symbolic threat to persons of color," IMSA attorney Darcee Williams wrote in response to the lawsuit, noting seven black students missed class because they were afraid.

"It constitutes a hate crime and undermines the feelings of safety and security of all students on IMSA's campus," Williams continued. "Students stated they feared for their life. Other students were unable to focus on their lessons and IMSA was forced to abandon scheduled lessons in order to address the incident. The local police were called and a police report was filed."

According to the lawsuit, the student's parents were given less than four hours notice on Sept. 25, that their child had been reported and a 2 p.m. disciplinary hearing was scheduled for that day.

Five days later, Doe and Doe's parents were told the student violated three sections of the student disciplinary code, but that the conduct was "neither premeditated nor intentional," according to the lawsuit.

The student was issued a five-day, out-of-school suspension; Doe's parents appealed Oct. 9 to a panel of five IMSA administrators, who upheld the suspension Oct. 11. The lawsuit argues: Doe's family never received a copy of a security video used to build the case against their child; the student saw the doll on the floor of the student lounge on Sept. 14 and it already had a pink, felt strip around its neck.

"Without altering the doll or the felt strip, John (Doe) pinned the doll to a corkboard located in the room, with a push pin, already affixed to the corkboard. An IMSA student, not John, removed the doll from the corkboard on September 16, 2019," and placed it on a sofa, the lawsuit contends. An unidentified student later re-affixed the doll to the corkboard, and on Sept. 17, a student took a picture and alerted school officials, the suit argues.

Named as defendants in the lawsuit are: IMSA; IMSA President Jose Torres; and six other administrators who reviewed the case.

Messages left for Peter Gruber, attorney for Doe and Doe's parents, was not returned. The two sides are next due in court Dec. 9.

According to the 2018 state report card, about 8% of IMSA's students are black. Another 5.7% are multiracial, nearly 9% are Hispanic, 41% are Asian and 35% are white.

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