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Suit: School staffer demeans autistic student

Mike Martindale
The Detroit News

Pontiac — A Southfield mother has filed a civil rights lawsuit on behalf of her autistic son against Southfield Public Schools and a school staffer who allegedly made the 14-year-old clean the man’s shoes in front of his classmates.

The lawsuit, filed in Oakland Circuit Court, alleges that on at least two occasions during the week of Jan. 23, J’aveoun Fleeton was made to bend down at his desk with a Clorox wipe to clean the shoes of a “laughing” Alan Lowen, a member of the Southfield High School support staff, all in view of the boy’s classmates.

According to the complaint, the incident also took place with a teacher in the classroom who did nothing to stop the behavior.

The teen is African-American and because of his autism is a protected person under the Michigan Persons with Disabilities Civil Rights Act. Lowen is an adult and white, according to the complaint.

Despite Tiffany Fleeton’s efforts the day following the incident, no apparent measures were taken against Lowen, but her son was removed from the classroom he had been in for an entire year.

The lawsuit described Lowen’s alleged conduct as “extreme, outrageous, intentional, reckless” and “went beyond all possible bounds of decency and is regarded as atrocious and utterly intolerable in a civilized society.”

“We are still waiting for a response from the school,” said H. Elliot Parnes, the attorney for the family.

Anika Corbett, Southfield Public Schools spokeswoman, issued the following statement last week: “Southfield Public Schools thoroughly investigates and addresses all claims of inappropriate behavior of staff. The district does not comment on matters in pending litigation.”

The Detroit News made several attempts by telephone and email last week to contact Lowen and school officials for comment, including the teacher who was reportedly present when the alleged incident occurred, the school’s principal and the school district superintendent. None of them responded.

According to the lawsuit, on Jan. 31, the day after the alleged incident, Tiffany Fleeton met with the Southfield High principal, who described the alleged incident as “highly unacceptable.” Fleeton also met with the school district superintendent the same day and was told: “We are going to have to do something about this. We are going to put J’aveoun in another class.”

But Lowen was not removed from the classroom, according to the complaint, which alleges the school and its employees violated the Michigan Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act by failing to prevent Lowen from discrimination and harassing the teen due to his race. The school district also violated the act by “failing to take appropriate remedial measures after learning of the illegal conduct.”

The lawsuit, which seeks more than $25,000 in damages, argues the Fleetons have suffered and will continue to suffer “emotional distress, severe humiliation, fear, outrage, anger and other mental anguish” over the incident.

The lawsuit, which requests a jury trial, is assigned to Judge Leo Bowman.

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