The father of a 13-year-old African-American boy who allegedly was called "my slave" by an Atherton school employee last school year filed a lawsuit Monday against the Redwood City School District.
N'Jai LeBlanc, who heads MVP Sports Clinics, a youth basketball program with a motto of "MVP Morals, Values, and Principles," said he decided to sue after Selby Lane School and district officials downplayed the incident during his meeting with them.
"The slave word is just like the n-word to me," LeBlanc said in a phone interview Tuesday. "I already know there's a big part of society that's racist. I want to protect my children. I want them to know it's not OK for people to be calling them racial slurs."
On Jan. 26, N'Jai LeBlanc Jr. was told by a teacher to clean up garbage strewn on the school's lunchroom floor, according to the lawsuit filed in San Mateo County Superior Court. LeBlanc Jr., then 12 years old, refused and explained that he did not make the mess and "was not a slave," the suit states. The teacher, identified as "Ms. Andrews" in a claim notice that the family's lawyer filed in April, later escorted the boy to Principal Dana McDonald's office, where LeBlanc Jr. was required to write a report about the incident.
The next day, a different school employee, identified as "Mr. Fred," told LeBlanc Jr. that all students would be prohibited from leaving the lunchroom area because he refused to pick up the garbage the day before, according to the suit. When the boy replied again that he isn't the school's slave, the staffer replied "You are my slave. This isn't a free country," according to the suit. The boy then walked away and reported the incident to a school staff member.
After lunch, LeBlanc Jr. was brought to the principal's office, where he was met by McDonald, Vice Principal Warren Sedar and the employee who had called him a slave. The employee apologized, according to the suit.
Redwood City School District spokeswoman Naomi Hunter said the district couldn't comment on the particulars of the case because it's in litigation, but noted that the school board denied the family's initial claim.
"We don't tolerate racial discrimination in the Redwood City School District, and we always take action if discrimination is proven," Hunter wrote in an email Tuesday.
The entire incident caused LeBlanc Jr. to feel "fear, shock, public humiliation, and extreme emotional distress," according to the lawsuit.
"As a result of the actions of Defendants, Plaintiff began wetting the bed, having nightmares, and his attitude towards anyone of authority, including his parents, has been adversely affected," states the lawsuit, adding that the family has paid for mental and physical health treatments for their son.
The elder LeBlanc said the family moved to Redwood City about a year ago and his son became uncharacteristically defensive after his one year at Selby Lane School. LeBlanc Jr. was transferred to Roy Cloud Elementary School this school year.
"You can say it's puberty, you can say whatever you want, but I've seen a change in my kid since he's gone to that school," the elder LeBlanc said.
In March 2011, Selby Lane School made headlines after a teacher unleashed a profanity-laced tirade in his classroom that frightened one student so badly she called 911. The teacher was subsequently put on medical leave and required to take anger-management counseling, according to the district.