A Bay Shore family is suing in federal court a Catholic school, its principal and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Rockville Centrefor their inadequate response to “cyberassaults” in which three students sent racist and disturbing messages and imagery to a black student, according to the legal complaint.
The lawsuit, filed Friday in U.S. District Court in Central Islip, names as defendants St. Mary School in East Islip, principal Biagio M. Arpino and the diocese, which oversees the school. The family is not pursuing a legal claim against the students, whom Newsday is not naming as they are minors.
Officials for the school and the diocese did not comment on the allegations and had not placed a response in the court record as of Monday afternoon. “We decline public comment on this matter, which is currently in litigation,” said Sean Dolan, diocese spokesman.
The suit alleges that the offensive messages were sent to the eighth-grader, who is 14, in December and April over the Discord texting platform for gamers.
According to the suit, they included a racist characterization of black people; separate images of a noose and a hooded Ku Klux Klan member, as well as doctored photographs showing the student in a gorilla suit and as the face on Adolf Hitler’s body. Another manipulated image depicts the targeted student pointing a gun at his own head, the suit alleges.
The school should have expelled the three students, also eighth-graders, in light of recent school shooting incidents and the hateful nature of the messages, the family contends in the lawsuit. The principal wrote to the child’s mother that “consequences were identified for the students involved,” but did not disclose what they were, citing privacy concerns, according to the suit.
The complaint states that “the Defendants tolerated and condoned an ongoing cyberattack.”
The child’s mother, Ursula Moore, said the harassment has caused grief to her family. She is a plaintiff alongside her son, her husband and an 11-year-old son also attending the school.
“They are the most vile, disgusting, racist images. They are so extremely hurtful,” said Moore, a freelance writer. “This has devastated our lives.”
School officials were wrong, she said, in not expelling the three students: “They [school officials] are tolerating racism, bullying and hatred.”
The suit seeks, among other relief, for expelling the alleged harassers, for the related images and content to be erased, and for adoption of a zero-tolerance policy “for bullying of any kind, racial hatred and hate speech.”
The plaintiffs also seek monetary damages to cover health costs, tuition reimbursements, future educational costs and legal expenses.