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Parents of Pittston Area student file federal suit

March 27. 2013 11:27PM

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WILKES-BARRE — The parents of a Pittston Area School District student have filed a lawsuit in federal court alleging a teacher bullied their child in September.

The suit, filed by attorney Cynthia Pollick, identifies the parents as L.H. and C.H. on behalf of their child, A.H., against the school district and Superintendent Michael Garzella.

A teacher, identified as Kelli Diaz, verbally abused the couple’s child in September 2012, according to the suit. The teacher allegedly directed these comments at him: “Shut up,” “Do you have a problem,” “It’s day 13 and I can’t stand you already,” “I’m not the only teacher who can’t stand you,” and “You’re going to have the worse year ever.”

Diaz also asked the child if he had Tourette’s syndrome, according to the complaint.

The school district and Garzella should have known about the teacher’s conduct, the suit says, due to “run-ins” in which she acted “inappropriately and had prior disciplinary issues.”

In October 2012, the suit says, the child’s parents disclosed Diaz’s conduct to the district and Garzella.

“(Diaz’s) official misconduct is a matter of public concern since no teacher should be allowed to speak to a minor child in the manner (Diaz) did, nor should a teacher ever have the word Tourette’s fall from their mouth when that minor child does not suffer from the same,” the suit says.

The suit alleges that after the district was alerted to Diaz’s conduct, the district and Garzella “retaliated” against the parents and child by “protecting” Diaz and “forcing” the child to be home schooled for more than five months.

The district and Garzella also “refused to respond to inquiries about the status of the alleged investigation into (Diaz’s) bullying,” failed to disclose any discipline given to Diaz and caused “anxiety” and “emotional distress” to the parents and child.

The suit alleges negligence in the supervision and hiring of Diaz and asks that an injunction be issued, stopping any retaliation against the parents and their child.

The parents also ask that their child be permitted to resume school without Diaz in his presence and seek damages against the school and Garzella, as well as attorneys fees and costs, interest and delayed damages and emotional distress.

The suit also asks that a “secret” settlement agreement with Diaz be made public.

In October, the school district hired a lawyer to investigate a claim of teacher bullying. Four months later, the school board approved a disciplinary agreement about an unnamed employee.

The district and employee “have agreed to disciplinary action and remedial conditions outside the scope of the governing collective bargaining agreement at no further cost to the district,” according to a statement read at a school board meeting. “By this resolution, the safety and welfare of the students are protected.”

No other information about the agreement was disclosed.

District Solicitor Joseph Saporito did not return a phone message left late Wednesday afternoon. A phone number for Diaz could not be found.

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