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Decatur Schools’ insurer pays $350k to settle claims of former employee whose son made racist comments

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Decatur Schools’ insurer pays $350k to settle claims of former employee whose son made racist comments

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

Decatur, GA —The mother of a Decatur High student filmed making racist comments has resigned as part of a $350,000 settlement agreement with City Schools of Decatur.

The student’s mother, Cheryl Nahmias, formerly a Decatur High Instructional Coach/International Baccalaureate Coordinator, filed the lawsuit in federal court on Dec. 23, 2020. She alleged racial discrimination and retaliation by the school district over the incident involving her son. She was demoted and reassigned to a job within CSD’s central office. She claimed 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.

Members of CSD’s Black community interpreted her son’s words as a threat against them, and CSD treated it as such, suspending her son for a year. Two warrants against him were dismissed by two different judges, according to his family and another record obtained by Decaturish. That case is now closed. Her son 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.

Nahmias’ demotion ostensibly occurred because she 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, 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.

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 was prompted by two letters received by CSD. The letters were written two weeks after the video of Nahmias’ son emerged. The letters were signed by members of the DHS Black Affinity Group.

The lawsuit claims the investigation was retaliation for defending her son.

“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. She also accused 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.”

The lawsuit said 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 said.

Nahmias’ attorney, Anita Bala, acknowledged when the suit was filed that the litigation would likely anger people in the community. But Nahmias still has rights, Bala said.

“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.”

Bala’s firm will get $140,000 of the $350,000 settlement. Nahmias will get the rest.

A message left with Nahmias seeking comment was not immediately returned. Under the terms of the settlement agreement, she agreed she would “not discuss her employment the District’s handling of her son’s disciplinary case, the settlement agreement, her lawsuit, or her released claims.”

CSD agreed not to disparage Nahmias and will not discuss the settlement.

“The lawsuit filed by Dr. Cheryl Nahmias against the School District, Dr. David Dude, Dr. Maggie Fehrman, and Dr. Kristy Beam has been resolved to the satisfaction of all parties,” the school district said. “The allegations were never ruled upon, but the insurance company for the School District made a business decision to settle all the claims to save the time, trouble and expense of proceeding with the litigation. The insurance company has paid the settlement amount. Dr. Nahmias has voluntarily resigned from the District. The School District thanks her for her fifteen years of service.”

The district also recently settled a federal lawsuit filed by David Adams, the district’s former human resources director. The settlement agreement has not been made public because it’s awaiting signatures, the school district’s attorney said. His lawsuit led to a series of investigative articles by Decaturish published before the district’s previous superintendent, David Dude, left the district.

Adams sued the district on Jan. 19, 2021. Adams alleges that Dude’s public statement about his departure from the district hampered his ability to find work and breached a non-disparagement clause of his severance agreement with the district. He alleges a central office shakeup in December 2019 occurred because the school’s finance director expressed concerns that Dude took more vacations than his contract allowed. Decaturish investigated these claims and found evidence to substantiate them. The School Board launched its own independent investigation of the claims, but declined to release the results, saying only the investigator found no evidence of criminal conduct. Following our investigative reporting, and the school district’s investigation, the Decatur School Board announced on April 27, 2021 that it was parting ways with Dude.

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