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‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ Lawsuit Ends with Settlement

A racial discrimination lawsuit was recently brought to an end when the Middlesex County School District agreed to settle for $25,000.

The Middlesex County School District recently agreed to pay $25,000 to settle a racial harassment lawsuit filed by a student at Jonas Salk Middle School over allegations that a teacher “used the N-word repeatedly in a lesson about ‘To Kill a Mockingbird.’” In the lawsuit, the student was only identified by her initials due to her age. The student was represented by Costello & Mains of Mount Laurel. The firm will receive $6,466.75 while the rest of the $25,000 will “be deposited in a trust for the minor overseen by the Middlesex County Surrogate.”

Gavel and two hardbound books on wooden table; image by Succo, via Pixabay.com.

What happened, though? Why was the suit filed? It all began when the school’s Language Arts teacher, Barbara Hauser, began teaching Harper Lee’s classic novel, ‘To Kill a Mockingbird,’ in December 2019. The novel is about “racial inequality in a small Alabama town during the Depression.” During the lesson, Hauser began discussing the topic of racism. During that discussion, “Hauser used the N-word several times,” according to the suit.

The student was the only African American in the class, and as such, many of her fellow students asked her if she was alright. According to the lawsuit, the young child began to cry. From there, Hauser also asked the child if she was alright “and began asking other students if the student was angry at her and then began to run the student’s back.” The suit states, “At no point in time did Hauser apologize for her use of the racist term.”

Soon after, the child’s mother learned of the incident and contacted a guidance counselor. However, the vice-principal of the school, “who had talked to other students and verified the incident, told the mother that Hauser had used the word in an ‘appropriate context,’” the lawsuit states. 

Before anything meaningful could be done about the matter, the school went on winter break. When school resumed after the break, “Hauser told the class about where she had grown up and had friends of diverse backgrounds.” Seems innocent enough, right? Wrong. Unfortunately, the suit claimed that during that discussion, “Hauser used a mocking accent to imitate the mother of an Asian friend.” There happened to be a handful of Asian students in the classroom.

The suit further alleged the harassment was “purposeful, intentional and willful” and argued the school district was liable because “it failed to reasonably promulgate a policy prohibiting harassment.”

The district pushed back against the allegations and said it had “acted in good faith without malicious intent.” 

Sources:

‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ lawsuit settles for $25K in Old Bridge

Old Bridge schools sued over teacher using N-word in ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ lesson

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