In November of 2015, Jennifer Garza who is the mother of a teenaged boy with autism, filed a federal lawsuit against the Lansing School district, along with a teacher she believed abused her son. According to the initial complaint, Garza’s son, who was 13 at the time of the incident, was the subject of repeated abuse at the hands of one particular teacher – Lester Duvall.
The abuse is said to have taken place on October 7th, 2014. Duvall, who was a tenured Special Education teacher with the Lansing School District, was substitute teaching for another teacher at the time at Gardner Leadership, Law and Government Academy. According to police records, the boy got up to sharpen a pencil and was told to sit down again by Duvall. Instead of complying, the teen headed to another pencil sharpener to keep sharpening his pencil.
According to the complaint, Duvall then allegedly “grabbed him by the arm, dragged him to the classroom door, and threw him on the floor and into a bookcase.” The teen suffered significant bruising on his legs, and a concussion. However, what made the incident more concerning in Garza’s eyes, was the fact that the school failed to report the abuse to her, to police, or to Child Protective Services for a full week.
When the police report was filed a week later, Duvall was arrested and charged with fourth degree child abuse, which under Michigan law is a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail. However Duvall accepted a plea bargain and pled to a single count of being a disorderly person. As a result of his plea, he was not required to serve any jail time, and only paid a fine of $300.
After the incident, it became public knowledge that Duvall has an alleged history of abuse, and the Lansing School District knew about it but hired him anyway. Resultantly, Garza filed lawsuits against LSD, Duvall and seven other people in positions of authority in the district. According to one of the law firms working on the lawsuits, this was an avoidable incident because the District should never have hired Duvall.
Allegedly LSD’s staff, parents and even the local Community Mental Health Authority have been repeatedly notifying the district’s administrators about “this rogue educator’s physical, verbal and psychological abuse of special education students.” They went on to say that “despite voluminous documentation of Duvall’s frequent maltreatment of these vulnerable youngsters, the district turned a blind eye to his illegal and abusive behaviors.”
Judge Gordon Quist has dismissed all but one of these lawsuits, allowing the one aimed at the Lansing School District to continue. This suit claims that three Lansing School District administrators knew about Duvall’s history of inappropriate use of force with students. The three persons named in the suit are Principal Connie Nickson, Director of Special Education Programs Martin Alwardt, and Superintendent Yvonne Caamal Canul.