By Josh LaBella
A parent of West Haven High School students is suing the Board of Education for $15,000 excluding damages and costs for what they say is “discrimination” and “retaliation.”
The summons, which was gathered through a Freedom of Information Act request, shows the lawsuit being pursued by Feinstein Educational Law Group of Mystic, CT. The plaintiff is Christine Barrington, who is suing on behalf of her two sons in West Haven high School.
The summons accuses the board of education of discriminating against the plaintiffs two sons, who both saw worsening allergy symptoms after extended periods of time in the high school, which is undergoing extensive renovations.
“Both minor plaintiffs attend West Haven High School, an old building containing numerous environmental allergens, which is in the process of being demolished and replaced,” attorney Andrew Feinstein said in the summons. “Since enrolling, both minor plaintiffs have complained of progressively worsening allergic reactive symptoms, including but not limited to pale/greyish skin, eye flashes, red/dry eyes, rapid heart rate, nausea, nasal congestion, sneezing, dry through/ hoarseness, light headedness, headache, fatigue/ exhaustion/ reduced stamina, after being inside WHHS. Such symptoms resolve over weekends and during school vacations.”
Doctor Andrew Carlson, the minor plaintiffs’ doctor, confirmed their “high allergic reactive sensitivities” after bloodwork skin tests were done. On Feb. 8 of this year, Barrington contacted WHHS Nursing Administrator Donna Kosiorowski to detail her concerns about the impact of the WHHS environment on her sons’ health. Kosiorowski offered to convene a meeting pursuant to Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 USC 794.
According to the summons, a school board-based team found the plaintiffs ineligible for Section 504 disability accommodations. The summons said the team made no recommendations for any evaluation or refused any suggested by Barrington.
The summons alleges that after several subsequent meetings and contact with school officials the school refused Section 504 eligibility.
“The defendants engaged in the above discriminatory conduct with malice or with reckless indifference to the plaintiffs statutorily protected rights,” the summons said. “As a result of the defendant’s unlawful conduct, the plaintiffs have suffered and continue to suffer a loss of educational opportunity, pain and suffering, anxiety, humiliation, shame and other emotional distress.”
Regarding the second count in the summons, it claims BOE employees and other city officials allegedly retaliated against Barrington for being an advocate over her concerns with the WHHS renovations.
“A part of the plaintiffs’ mother’s advocacy has been her repeated request for comprehensive environmental assessment of the existing WHHS buildings, including but not limited to the presence of mold and excessive dust. This has led to repeated and on-going efforts by City and Board officials, their agents and/or designees to silence plaintiffs’ mother, including but not limited to the following individual and/or collective acts of gross misjudgment, bad faith, deliberate indifference, and purposeful retaliation,” Feinstein said in the summons.
The summons went on to list occasions in which officials of the city and BOE allegedly attempted to threaten and intimidate the plaintiffs’ mother. The parties named in the summons include High School Building Committee Chairman, and partial owner of the West Haven Voice, Ken Carney and the Board’s “Specially Designated Person” Richard Dunn.
There have been a number of air quality tests conducted at the school; all of which have validated officials claims that the school is safe to be in. A recent study by the American Federation of Teachers reiterated the findings of other studies conducted.
The air quality at West Haven High School has been a matter of concern in many quarters, and was the subject of an investigation by the American Federation of Teachers, the parent group of the WHFT, the teachers’ bargaining agent.
The investigating team, written by Amy Bahruth, of the Union Leadership Institute, an affiliated AFT organization, followed a tour on Oct. 1. City officials and Carney believed the report exonerated the city from what is believed to be unfounded accusations.
At the time, Carney was happy with the results, and believed it showed the efforts made to keep the staff and students safe.
“The completely exonerates us and puts all those accusations to bed,” he said after the report came out. “The union did the study after getting complaints, came in with the attitude something was wrong, and then sent in this report.”
Carney said union officials had the attitude it was a “sick building,” but the report was very positive when it came to describing the steps taken to make sure air quality, dust and other air-borne allergens were under control.