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Lawsuit accuses teacher of ethnic remark against Big Bear Middle School student

A lawsuit on behalf of a Latina student at Big Bear Middle School says a teacher humiliated the girl and inhibited her education by making an anti-Mexican remark.

July 22, 2011|By Rick Rojas

A lawsuit has been filed against the Bear Valley Unified School District on behalf of a Latina middle-school student who accuses her teacher of making remarks about her ethnicity that, she said, humiliated her and inhibited her education.

The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund filed the lawsuit Wednesday.

It says Coral Aviles, 13, was harassed by a Big Bear Middle School teacher because she is Mexican and alleges the district didn't do enough to respond.

Bear Valley school district officials declined to comment on Thursday, saying they hadn't been served with the lawsuit. The defendants include the teacher, Suzy Carpenter; the district; its board of trustees; Kegham Tashjian, the then-interim superintendent; and then-Big Bear Middle School Principal Julie Chamberlin.

Nancy Ramirez, Western regional counsel for MALDEF and Coral's attorney, said the teacher later apologized in front of the class. But Ramirez called the response "completely inadequate."

In June 2010, the suit says, the teacher asked Coral if she was Mexican after the girl entered a performing arts class wearing a soccer jersey with "Mexico" on it. The girl replied that she was.

"Why are you here? Why are you in my country?" Carpenter asked Coral, according to the lawsuit. "Because this is my country. And because of people like you, I pay high taxes, and because of people like you, my insurance is sky high."

Coral fled the room crying. She went to the principal's office and later returned to class. She continued crying, and Carpenter told her to leave, the suit alleges.

The next day, Coral said, she spent the class period helping the custodian pick up trash.

"When I learned she spent her class period picking up trash, when she should have been learning," said her mother, Diana Aviles, who started to cry, "I was outraged."

The girl, who ultimately changed classes, said at a news conference Thursday that the experience left her feeling "hurt and humiliated."

Chamberlin, who was removed as principal and will become a fifth-grade teacher in August, disputes Coral's account. She said she investigated the situation and found that Carpenter didn't say what the lawsuit alleges. And according to Chamberlin's recollection, Coral wasn't wearing the shirt on the day mentioned.

Carpenter could not be reached for comment Thursday.

rick.rojas@latimes.com

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