Two teachers at a Jackson, Michigan alternative public school for at-risk pre-teen and teenage students claim pupils have been allowed to freely engage in violent, threatening, and abusive behavior “without restraint, accountability or consequence.”
Joanna Perkin and Amy Gish, who teach at the Fourth Street Learning Center in the small town 40 miles west of Ann Arbor, filed a federal lawsuit on Wednesday claiming the Jackson Public School District violated their constitutional rights by failing to “adequately confront and to rectify” violence at the school.
They said they witnessed students punch out windows and threaten staff with the glass shards; throw chairs; punch and throw computer terminals; taunt their teachers; call faculty “cunt,” “bitch,” “dumb, “ugly,” “fat,” and “retarded;” bring air guns to school; put “hands on” teachers; riot in the cafeteria; bully others, leaving them “emotionally damaged and often in tears;” and sexually assault other students “without recourse.”
Even parents, Perkin and Gish said, “threatened the safety of teachers,” according to the 7-page complaint the women filed in U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of Michigan.
Eventually, according to the lawsuit, the allegedly toxic environment resulted in a mass exodus of teachers and of a principal, office secretary, dean of students, security monitor, social worker, and in-school tutor.
Both women have been teaching in the district since 1999 and at the school since 2017. Perkin has been on medical leave since September 2018, and Gish has been on medical leave since June 2019. It was not immediately clear what prompted the teachers to take medical leave, and their attorney did not respond to a request for comment by press time.
Both Perkin and Gish have dedicated their entire adult lives to teaching and are “well-trained in teaching techniques, including techniques to calm or ‘to reset’ violent or uncontrollable students as an attempt to de-escalate contumacious conduct,” the complaint states.
But the women said those techniques are useless in an environment where the district allowed students “to engage in violence, abuse, and aggression.”
“In spite of repeated requests,” for increased security to protect faculty and children, the district “either did not respond to their overtures or made empty promises that were not fulfilled,” the complaint alleges. The district, the women claimed, “did not take reasonable steps to remedy the hostile work environment which plaintiffs were forced to endure.”
The district’s “policies or customs of failing to provide adequate security” caused the teachers “mental injuries, and interfered with their liberty interests to be free from violence and their property interests in their continued employment as guaranteed by the fifth amendment to the U.S. Constitution,” according to the lawsuit.
The women allege they suffered lost wages, mental pain and anguish, and consequential damages, including attorney fees. They have requested a jury trial to determine unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.
“As of this email Jackson Public Schools has not received this complaint,” said Jackson Public School District Superintendent Jeff Beal, in response to an email from The Daily Beast seeking comment on Thursday, which had a copy of the complaint attached. “It is the policy of Jackson Public Schools not to comment on ongoing legal actions.”