Former student sues school district for $1.9 million

A former Renaissance High and Middle School student has filed a $1.9 million lawsuit against the Bremerton School District.

It was filed Nov. 17 in U.S. District Court in Tacoma.

The suit, which names Superintendent Bette Hyde and four school district employees is in response to a 2002 incident when teacher Elizabeth Finin called a group of black students “porch monkeys.”

According to court documents the students were sitting outside on the stairs of a portable classroom when Finin told them to move. When she came back by, she again told the students to move. Both times she admitted to saying “porch monkeys”, but did not realize it was a derogatory term documents stated.

Finin also apologized for making the remark.

The plaintiff, Antwan Atkins, claims the incident caused him to drop out of school and caused him emotional distress. According to his attorney Michael Nkosi, he has not gotten his high school diploma or GED. He is currently unemployed.

“They owe this young man an education,” Nkosi said Tuesday.

The incident, the suit states, “illustrates a significant pattern of discrimination, rather than just a chance occurrence. (Atkins) had to endure a severe and pervasive hostile educational environment while attending high school in the Bremerton School District.”

After the incident Atkins and his mother met with the school’s principal Stuart Crisman, her pastor and Finin, who at the time had Atkins in her class. Finin and Crisman stated they had never heard of the term “porch monkey” and an Internet search on the topic yielded no information. Finin received a verbal warning from district officials.

“Nobody did anything to protect Mr. Atkins,” Nkosi said.

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