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July 24, 2014

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Lawsuit alleges Wynn Elementary staff bullied girl, 10, for being black

Wynn Elementary administrators bullied and berated a 10-year-old student out of prejudice for being black, a lawsuit filed in federal court alleges.

The suit, filed July 3 by the girl's mother, Sheena Hathorn, accuses the Clark County School District, Wynn principal Ellen Bordinhao and Superintendent Pat Skorkowsky of civil rights violations, discrimination, and negligent hiring and training of employees. Hathorn seeks a jury trial and at least $50,000 in damages or "an amount adequate to punish the wrongdoers and deter future misconduct."

School district officials declined to comment, citing pending litigation.

The child, who has turned 11 since the alleged abuse began to take place, was first targeted during a school field trip Oct. 31, 2012, when another child accused her of rough play, according to the suit. A woman identified only as Megan — one of four chaperones watching over 60 children on the trip — reportedly asked the other child who pushed her, and the girl pointed in a general direction to the top of a slide where several youngsters had gathered.

Megan allegedly began to scream at Hathorn's daughter, causing her to cry, even though the girl denied pushing another child and there was no way of knowing who had done it, said Hathorn, who was on the playground at the time of the incident.

Hathorn works part time for the Clark County School District as a program assistant, records show.

Days after the incident, Hathorn said she tried reaching out to school district officials to learn more about Megan, but the staff did not know the woman's last name and identified her only as a family friend of a teacher.

Hathorn filed a bullying report and Clark County officials subsequently interviewed her daughter alone during a so-called counseling session, according to the suit.

"Shockingly, when Sheena requested information regarding the unauthorized counseling session, (officials) refused to inform Sheena regarding the session as if (the child) requested the counseling session of her own volition," the suit says. "Most importantly, upon information and belief, that the school refuses to reveal the contents of the session because during that session (the child) made clear she believed she was being yelled (at) and berated because she is African-American, one of the few African-American(s) enrolled at Wynn."

Attorneys Patrick Kang and Erica Loyd, who filed the suit on behalf of Hathorn, called the district's conduct malicious and predatory.

Hathorn's complaint comes less than three months after a pair of families sued the district for allegedly failing to protect their children from chronic taunting by other students. One of the families said their son considered taking his own life because of the bullying.

The district has faced harsh criticism from Clark County parents and the American Civil Liberties Union, which filed the April 29 complaint on behalf of the two families, since a 13-year-old student at White Middle School committed suicide in December and left a farewell note tying her death to bullying.

The earlier lawsuit calls for changes in district policy, unspecified damages and a jury trial.

School District officials have since formed a task force to address bullying issues. The task force reviews district policies and state laws regarding bullying. It recommends policy and legislative changes.

Read the lawsuit below.

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