ROSEVILLE, Minn. — A former Roseville second-grade teacher is accused of segregating Black students in her class and choking one of them, according to a federal civil lawsuit filed last week.
Parent Kirsten Lindsey filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in St. Paul against the school district and former Harambee Elementary School teacher Geraldine Cook. According to the civil complaint, Cook choked Lindsey’s son which caused him to be severely traumatized and transfer out of the school district. At least two other Black students also were assaulted early in the 2019-2020 school year, according to the lawsuit.
According to the lawsuit, the four to six Black students in Cook’s class were forced to sit together, separated from other students. One student said Cook pulled on her arm so hard her shirt ripped, and another said Cook would grab and pull at the faces of Black students in the class, according to the lawsuit.
Lindsey’s 7-year-old was choked by Cook after she became angry at him for gargling water, according to the lawsuit. The incident was particularly frightening for the boy because he has asthma, the lawsuit said. Afterward, Cook retaliated against the boy, and forced him to put his hands behind his back “like a criminal defendant” as he walked to the principal’s office, according to the lawsuit.
According to the lawsuit, the school’s principal told Lindsey’s son after he had been choked by Cook not to tell his parent. Lindsey’s son, who has learning disabilities, began to show signs of experiencing trauma after the incident, and Lindsey noticed significant changes in his mental health.
The school’s principal also often placed Lindsey’s son in a “behavioral support room” for unspecified reasons, according to the lawsuit. Lindsey didn’t learn of the assault until her son said Cook was no longer his teacher. Despite multiple reports made by students to the principal, the school did not inform Lindsey of the assault, the lawsuit said.
Roseville schools spokesperson Josh Collins said in an email Monday that he could not comment on the ongoing lawsuit, but that “the safety and wellbeing of our students is our most important obligation, and we take any complaint of harm against a student seriously.”
Collins said Cook resigned from the school district on Dec. 3, 2019.
Collins said the school district has no disciplinary records for Cook that are public under state law, adding, “steps that are taken with an employee that do not meet the definition of disciplinary action are not public data.”
Cook’s phone voicemail box was full Monday morning and an email was not immediately returned.
Lindsey was involved in the school as a volunteer and noticed that Cook acted inappropriately around Black students, according to the lawsuit. Lindsey voiced her concerns about Cook to the principal multiple times, but school officials took no actions to address her concerns, the lawsuit said.
The lawsuit seeks monetary compensation for Lindsey and her son’s civil rights being violated. According to the lawsuit, the school district tried to cover up Cook’s behavior, preventing Lindsey from providing her son with the care he needed.
Josh Verges contributed to this report.