Schenectady County

Parent sues BOCES, Mohonasen School district over incident

A parent of a special needs child is suing Capital Region BOCES and the Mohonasen Central School Dis

A parent of a special needs child is suing Capital Region BOCES and the Mohonasen Central School District, alleging that his son was physically assaulted — the second such lawsuit he has filed against a local school district.

Brian Whitaker Sr. of Pattersonville filed a lawsuit in New York State Supreme Court claiming that his son was in a classroom at Draper Middle School on Oct. 21, 2011, and the teacher tried to grab his notebook containing a story he was working on and the boy did not want to release it.

“The teacher flipped the desk over with my son in it, threw it on the floor and took the notebook,” he said.

The child was then told to get his belongings and go to the in-school suspension office. He stopped by his locker to retrieve his backpack when school officials told them he couldn’t. Whitaker then alleges that school officials threw his son to the floor with a head and arm move similar to ones used in mixed martial arts fighting. A teacher held his thumb to his son’s throat and a social worker was scratching at his arm, according to Whitaker.

“They pinned him down and literally ripped his backpack off him and said they had to search it,” he said.

His son’s issues include attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and oppositional defiant disorder. Whitaker added that his son has no history of bringing weapons to school or threatening people. All that was in the backpack was a peanut butter-and-jelly sandwich, toilet tissue and deodorant.

Whitaker said at some point his son with his hands in the pockets had bumped into the teacher with his shoulder. He claims the level of retaliation was excessive.

He also alleged that a teacher at one point had said that he could do what he wanted.

Whitaker claims staff members were verbally abusive to him. About a month before this, a teacher had wanted him to write an essay about his role as a student and why he was not equal to other students.

Whitaker said local police and the Schenectady County District Attorney’s Office declined to press charges.

“They have a big bubble protecting these teachers and it’s not right,” he said.

Damages sought

The lawsuit names teacher Christopher D’Estienne and social worker Louise McGann. Whitaker is seeking monetary damages but the lawsuit does not specify an amount.

Mohonasen officials referred all questions to Capital Region BOCES.

“We are aware of the lawsuit, but it’s our policy not to comment on ongoing litigation,” said BOCES Spokeswoman Jill Aurora.

Rotterdam police investigated the matter but did not file any criminal charges, according to Deputy Chief William Manikas. “We didn’t feel there was enough evidence to sustain a charge,” he said.

Whitaker said his son, now 14 and attending a BOCES program in Johnstown, has a fear of being confronted and attends counseling.

Whitaker had filed a similar lawsuit last year alleging that then-Schalmont Middle School Principal Michael Kondratowicz lifted him up and slammed him into a locker in January 2011.

His son suffered a bruise on his shoulder, according to Whitaker.

Whitaker said he had this case referred to New York State Police because he believed local law enforcement officials had conflicts of interest because of their connection to school employees.

He said he was unsuccessful at obtaining video camera footage of the incident. School officials said it was recorded over after 30 days because of their system.

No charges were filed in that case. District officials have denied the allegations. Kondratowicz retired in August.

Whitaker switched his son to Burnt Hills and then when the BOCES program was eliminated because of budget cuts, to Mohonasen.

That case is pending. Whitaker said he is considering consolidating it with the Mohonasen case.

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