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Lawsuit: Girls faced racial discrimination

Alissa Widman Neese • Dec 3, 2013 at 4:01 PM

For a pair of sisters, walking the hallways at school in Bellevue was a daily battle against relentless racial discrimination.

That’s the allegation in a lawsuit the mother of the two sisters, ages 15 and 17, filed this month in U.S. Northern District Court in Toledo.

One teacher awarded a girl fewer points on projects and wrongfully accused her of concealing drugs, according to the suit, while other teachers let one girl’s classmates hurl racial slurs during lessons, with no consequences.

The girls were regularly the target of students’ derogatory remarks and bullying, according to the suit.

Sabrina Reel, the mother of the girls, alleges Bellevue Schools failed to provide the girls an educational environment free of racial discrimination, harassment and intimidation.

Reel is suing district administrators, alleging they treated her two biracial daughters differently than white students when the girls attended middle school and high school from 2011-13.

After two years of debilitating emotional distress, the family relocated to Sandusky earlier this year, the suit states. Reel filed her lawsuit Nov. 22. She’s seeking compensation and punitive damages from Bellevue Schools, as well as court costs and attorney fees.    

The suit says her daughters suffered severe emotional damage.

Her daughters are “of African-American and Caucasian descent” and “were amongst the few minority students” in the district, according to the suit.

Defendants listed in the suit are school board president Ted Clark, middle school principal John Bollinger, and high school assistant principal Molly Porter.

In one situation, Bollinger allegedly singled out the 15-year-old girl at a school assembly, ordering her to put up her hair because it was a “distraction” to the school, despite being in its “natural manner” the lawsuit states.

In a routine drug search at Bellevue High School, the same girl was escorted to Porter’s office and forced to remove her socks because a teacher suspected she had been concealing drugs, the suit states.

Students often made derogatory comments during class, calling the girls the N-word and, in one instance, hitting the 15-year-old girl with a pen, according to the lawsuit.

Other racially motivated insults, according to the suit, included “that’s why your grandpa picked cotton for my grandpa” and “take (your) black (expletive) back to Africa”

When Bellevue Schools suspended one student in May 2013 for making the latter remark, several students retaliated against the girls with harassing text messages, the lawsuit stated. If the girls tried to defend themselves in other situations, they were often punished.

Reel tried to work with district officials to handle the situation, but each time they learned of the humiliating and derogatory treatment, they didn’t take it seriously, according to the lawsuit.

The district’s top officials, however, said scenarios detailed in Reel’s lawsuit are unlikely.

Bellevue Schools has policies in place to prevent bullying, harassment and discrimination, said Kim Schubert, the district’s superintendent since 2009.

Schubert said she is confident administrators followed these policies.

“We value and respect each and every student we serve,” Schubert said. “We take our policies very seriously and work hard to ensure that all of our students are protected”

Reel’s primary attorney, David Forrest, of Cleveland, was not available for comment Monday. Robert Zelvy, of Sandusky, her other attorney, said he had no comments beyond what the lawsuit states.

Reel did not answer the front door at her Sandusky home when a reporter visited there Monday.

Read the school’s policies on harassment as well as the lawsuit filed against district in the files attached below

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