The parents of a seventh-grader at All Saints Academy in Breese are suing the school, saying he was unfairly suspended for an off-campus fight.
They are suing All Saints Academy in Clinton County Circuit Court for unspecified monetary damages; they also want the record of his suspension expunged.
Elizabeth Usselmann, the boy’s mother, said the family is suing because the school has given them no other recourse.
“These things can be worked out if you just get people to sit down and discuss,” she said. “Unfortunately the administration isn’t allowing us any avenue to do that.”
Usselmann said Wednesday that the lawsuit is the result of a fight that her son, Blake, was in on Oct. 30 while not on school property. He was given a three-day, in-school suspension. The family kept him from school while they tried to plead his case with the principal, then the school board and the Catholic Diocese of Belleville. The principal told the Usselmanns that Blake could return to school after serving an in-school suspension, while the others would not discuss the matter with the family, Usselmann said.
It meant that Blake was out of class for six days, including the three days that are unexcused. The suit seeks to have the unexcused absences expunged from his record.
According to the school’s handbook online, students are expected to “portray good citizenship at all times when they could be seen as representatives of the school.”
The Usselmanns and other school families were at the Knights of Columbus Hall in Breese after a school event, Usselmann said, but no teachers or administrators were present.
“The kids were playing a game of chase,” at the hall, Usselmann said. She and her husband were inside at the time. According to what her son told her, the game devolved when some girls who had been “picking on him” since the school year began “held him down, pulled his hair and kicked him. He swung around and fought back.”
“The problem is the other students who have been picking on him and bullying him are girls,” Usselmann said. “I think that adds another layer to it; the principal has been unwilling to take action because she thinks it’s not valid.”
Principal Robin Booth is named in the suit along with All Saints Academy. She had no comment on Wednesday.
The Usselmanns received a letter from the school dated Nov. 3, serving Blake with an in-school suspension, during which he would receive full credit for his work. In the letter, Booth wrote that “the suspension is the result of Blake’s actions toward two girls ... at a potluck to celebrate the start of the boys basketball season.”
The letter said Blake punched, kicked and threw rocks at the girls.
That letter, dated on a Tuesday, put Blake into in-school suspension for that Thursday, Friday and the following Monday.
The Usselmans kept Blake home those days instead, during which Usselmann said they tried to have meetings with the principal, school board and representatives of the diocese to plead his case.
On Nov. 9, the Usselmanns’ lawyer, Daniel J. Grueninger of Belleville, wrote the school’s board of education, denying the misconduct and arguing that the matter did not fall under the school’s purview. Grueninger also argued that the punishment was appropriate. He requested a hearing to allow due process.
The school’s lawyer responded that the statutes cited in Grueninger’s letter did not apply to parochial schools.
“In parochial schools, the school board is merely advisory and has no governing authority,” wrote attorney Kevin J. Richter of Mathis, Marifian and Richter in Belleville.
“All Saints Academy is willing to discuss with the Usselmanns steps to have Blake return to classes after the appropriate disciplinary action has been completed,” Richter wrote.
Grueninger did not immediately return a call for comment Wednesday. Richter said another attorney at the firm would handle any pending litigation; that attorney, Mark Schuver, was not available for comment.
Blake served the three-day suspension in the principal’s office, his mother said, in view of other students and teachers.
“We’re concerned about it following him to high school...and she’s labeled him with a reputation he has not earned,” she said.