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Johnson City denies racial discrimination in school bus incident

Matthew Lane • May 23, 2020 at 8:00 PM

GREENEVILLE — Johnson City denies there was any intentional racial discrimination when a student was suspended from riding the school bus following a fight with another student.

The denial comes in court filings made last month in U.S. District Court in Greeneville. A Sullivan County parent filed a $1.2 million civil rights lawsuit against Johnson City in April.

In the lawsuit, the parent claims their son, who is African-American, was discriminated against because of his race. The plaintiff is identified only as E.D. and the son as D.D.

The lawsuit stems from a fight that took place on a school bus in December 2019 between D.D. and a Caucasian student named David.

BACKGROUND INFORMATION

According to the lawsuit, David began bullying younger children on the bus and D.D. told him to stop. Then, David used a water bottle to spray other students, and D.D. took the bottle.

The student claims David grabbed the water bottle back and began taunting him and calling him names. The two students began pushing each other, with David taking a swing at D.D., the lawsuit states.

D.D. claims he was struck on the back of the head by David’s arm, then David jumped on top of him. The lawsuit states the bus driver pulled the vehicle over and called police, who arrived about 10 minutes later.

JOHNSON CITY RESPONDS

After speaking with the students, the police ordered them back on the bus, the lawsuit states. However, D.D. claims that Johnson City Transit Director Eldona Janutolo arrived shortly after, ordered D.D. off the bus and told him he was kicked off indefinitely.

“Get your bags and walk home,” D.D. claims he was told. The bus was about five minutes away from D.D.’s home. David, in turn, was allowed to reboard the bus and be driven home, the lawsuit states.

According to Johnson City’s response, the two students were required to deboard the bus at the request of the police officers who arrived on the scene. D.D. wasn’t forced to walk home, but rather allowed to walk a short distance home since the bus had stopped in his neighborhood, the response states. The walk took 10 minutes or less, the response states.

E.D. claims their son was discriminated against because he is African-American. D.D. claims he was suspended from using the school bus for three days.

According to its response, Johnson City states David was also punished as a result of the fight, including an in-school suspension and being suspended from riding the school bus — 10 times longer than D.D.

The family of D.D. is seeking $300,000 in compensatory damages and $900,000 in punitive damages.

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