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Decatur High admin whose son made racist video sues school district for racial discrimination

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Decatur High admin whose son made racist video sues school district for racial discrimination

Decatur High School, City Schools of Decatur, N McDonough Street.

Decatur, GA —The mother of a Decatur High student who made a racist video is suing her employer, City Schools of Decatur, for racial discrimination and retaliation.

The student’s mother, Cheryl Nahmias, formerly a Decatur High Instructional Coach/International Baccalaureate Coordinator, filed the lawsuit in federal court on Dec. 23. She sued the school district after she was demoted and reassigned to a job within CSD’s central office. She claims the demotion was the culmination of a months’ long campaign of retaliation against her for sticking up for her son’s rights and for years of whistleblowing activities within the district.

In May 2020, a video of her son emerged that showed him holding a toy gun and saying, “I use this to kill n***** … bap bap bap.” He was 14-years-old and a freshman at the high school when the video was recorded a year before it became public knowledge.

The lawsuit could reopen wounds in the CSD community over the racist video, which was one of at least three racist videos involving Decatur High students that surfaced in 2020.

DaVena Jordan, a Black parent who filed the police complaint against Nahmias’ son, said she had made her peace with the episode when she concluded he wouldn’t face any legal consequences for his actions. She criticized Nahmias for bringing the issue back to the surface via this lawsuit.

“What she’s doing now is just absolutely foolish,” Jordan said. “It’ll be a scar on her and him for the rest of their lives You don’t fight back when you’re wrong. You don’t. You just don’t. It’s going to hurt a lot of people in the wake of it, continuing to trample over people who have been trampled over enough. We all want some peace.”

Members of CSD’s Black community interpreted her son’s words as a threat and CSD treated it as such, suspending her son for a year. Two warrants were dismissed by two different judges, according to his family and another record obtained by Decaturish. That case is now closed. He also appealed his suspension by CSD and the state Board of Education reversed the punishment, saying the district had no jurisdiction because there was no evidence that the student’s conduct could be charged as a felony.

Through their attorney, the Nahmias family said, “We believe the City Schools of Decatur has violated Dr. Nahmias’ civil, constitutional, and educational privacy rights. We intend to prove that [Superintendent David] Dude and his administration have created a work environment that is hostile to legally protected speech and whistleblowers. We believe the evidence will show that the school district engaged in a costly, non-transparent investigation that ultimately did not yield any credible evidence of wrongdoing, as a means of intimidation and retaliation.  We intend to hold CSD and its administrators accountable for this egregious conduct.”

The school district declined to comment on the lawsuit.

“CSD denies the allegations, and our legal counsel will be filing an answer and defenses in court,” a spokesperson for CSD said.

The demotion ostensibly occurred because Nahmias emailed documents to herself that contained student information, but the lawsuit says the demotion was “groundless” and “pretextual.” It followed an investigation into her conduct at the school led by CSD’s attorneys.

The lawsuit makes reference to a “five-months-long sham investigation and fishing expedition” and pushes back on how it was conducted and its conclusions. Decaturish obtained a copy of the investigation’s conclusions via an open records request.

According to the investigation report written by CSD’s attorneys provided by the school district in response to the open records request, the investigation was broad in its scope and considered whether Nahmias gave preference to white students over Black students. But the investigation found no conclusive evidence of this. It did find that there is a widespread perception at the school that she is “condescending or belittling” when interacting with people of color.

“Witnesses from RMS, DHS, and central office, white and people of color, former and current CSD employees report that Dr. Nahmias is condescending or belittling in her tone or approach toward people of color,” the investigation says. “We do not attribute a motive to her conduct, nor do we even know whether she is aware of it when it occurs. She denied that she has ever treated people in this way and denied that anyone has ever addressed this issue with her. We found both to be untrue. Regardless, the result is that a significant number of people believe that her actions toward them is due to implicit racial bias or intentional discrimination.”

However, the investigation makes no formal disciplinary recommendations, and it’s not clear that Nahmias faced any disciplinary action as a result of its findings. The investigation stemmed from two letters received by CSD in June, written two weeks after the video of Nahmias’ son emerged. The letters were signed by members of the DHS Black Affinity Group, though the interviews were not limited to those witnesses, the investigative report says.

The lawsuit says the investigation was retaliation.

“Defendants purposely commenced this investigation against Dr. Nahmias without informing her of the allegations because of her racial association with her son, in retaliation for her testimony on behalf of her son, and to grant the request of the racial affinity group to ‘cancel’ or remove the whole family from CSD,” the lawsuit said.

In her lawsuit, she said the district failed to protect her son’s educational privacy rights because she and her son are white. It also accuses the district of “selectively imposing and enforcing workplace policies, practices, rules, and procedures against her but not against Black employees who violated the same policies, practices, rules, or procedures; and (b) subjecting Plaintiff to disciplinary action or more severe disciplinary actions, on the basis of her race and her son’s race.”

The lawsuit says CSD also referred Nahmias to the state Professional Standards Commission, which licenses teachers, for the email she sent to herself. The PSC dismissed that complaint, the lawsuit says.

Nahmias’ attorney, Anita Bala, acknowledged that the litigation will likely anger people in the community.

“She’s still a person. She’s still an employee. She still has rights,” Bala said. “She’s very sensitive to the concerns that arose in the community about the video. She feels that the school district went after her specifically because of her association with her son. We know this is a sensitive matter to this community, but that doesn’t mean she needs to roll over and let the school district ride roughshod over her rights.”

The lawsuit demands that the school district reinstate Nahmias and award unspecified damages to her.

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