Parents threaten legal action over school’s alleged discipline

A group of parents from the Marjorie H. Tobias Elementary School community say they are retaining attorneys and contacting the U.S. Office for Civil Rights after what they describe as a “nightmare” of a school year in which they allege their children were disciplined in a harsh manner.

Disciplinary actions such as tying a student’s hands behind his back and making a student stand outside in the cold were allegedly employed by substitute teachers for the Room 2 kindergarten class during this past year, according to the parents of six children who have banded together to pursue their complaints.

The school’s principal, Benjamin Moser, and district Associate Superintendent Mateo Rizzo did not immediately return calls for comment Thursday, and district Superintendent Barbara Wilson said she couldn’t comment because it involved personnel.

“I am concerned that they’re concerned,” school board President Marianne Petroni said of the parents, but said she could not add further comment.

Tobias parents Cynthia Gubbins and Christina Ortiz took their complaints to the school board Wednesday night, but the board could only hear their comments and could not respond.

“If we don’t hear from the board, you’ll be hearing from our attorney,” said Ortiz, who also said she’d run for the school board next year if nothing happened.

The allegations are indirectly related to complaints made by the classroom’s full-time teacher, Norma Labrador, a self-described progressive educator who alleges she faced a year full of harassment from Moser and Rizzo. Labrador’s 31st year as a teacher ended May 4 when she was put on paid leave for misconduct, a day after she held a press conference alleging the harassment, which she said consisted of intimidation and verbal confrontations in front of students.

The parents claim Moser and Rizzo contributed to the child endangerment because, they say, their alleged conduct with Labrador — and her absence — led to the Room 2 classroom being transformed from one that children enjoyed entering to one run by substitutes who allegedly used harsh disciplinary tactics. Gubbins said she felt she was targeted by the administration after bringing complaints to their attention, after Moser allegedly came to a parent-teacher conference to tell Gubbins her son was being held back.

A school investigation looked into the hand-tying incident, which was reported by several children, and found the allegations false, Ortiz said.

The substitute was moved to another classroom, she said.

Labrador said that during the year she was driven to distraction and required occasional leave because of the stress the 61-year-old endured from the alleged harassment from Moser and Rizzo, who she says wanted her out because of her nontraditional teaching methods.

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