A New York City public school teacher from Farmingville who has been accused of forcing students to lie on the floor during a "slave lesson" in class has taken legal action against the city's Department of Education and said in legal papers that the incident never happened.
Patricia Cummings, 37, a social studies teacher in the William W. Niles School-Middle School 118 in the Bronx, filed a notice of claim that she intends to sue the City of New York and its Department of Education, seeking $120 million in damages and alleging she has been defamed and that her civil rights have been violated. She also wants to be returned to the classroom.
"Her professional career has been substantially compromised and she has been unwillingly exposed to negative notoriety which has publicly humiliated and embarrassed her and subjected her to threats of violence, assault and death," read the notice of claim signed Sept. 25.
Doug Cohen, a spokesman for the Department of Education, said Thursday, “We’ve begun the process of firing Ms. Cummings based on an investigation of this unacceptable behavior and her performance as an educator. We’ll review this baseless lawsuit.”
The notice of claim is a precursor to a suit filed against a government entity.
It stated that the mother of a student alleged that Cummings instructed the student, who is not named in the document, to get on the floor and that she put her knee in the student's back and pushed down. Cummings was showing a five-minute video clip from the movie "Freedom" to reinforce her lesson on the atrocities slaves were subjected to. She did say in the claim that she did have four student volunteers sit very close together for demonstration of cramped conditions.
Cummings "denies that any student laid on the floor at any time during the demonstration and denies making any physical contact with any student," the claim read. A statement sent from her lawyer, Thomas F. Liotti of Garden City, said she would be willing to take a lie-detector test.
"That student or any others and their parents should also submit to lie detector exams and we will soon find out that these charges are totally fabricated,” Liotti said.
School officials investigated the incident and Cummings was removed from teaching that class in January and removed from the school in February. She was reassigned to what the papers called "teacher jail" in Queens, which the claim described as "a small uncomfortable room with 15 teachers crammed together."
The alleged incident was reported in local media and then widely covered in newspapers and on television. The notice of claim also states that Cummings was the victim of reverse discrimination, "teaching in a school that has a significant minority population."
According to the city's Department of Education, an investigation into Cummings found poor judgment and that she received a discontinuance notice on Sept. 17. Probationary teachers receive a 30-day discontinuance notice and have an opportunity to present information to contradict the discontinuance during those 30 days, and they have the right to appeal after discontinuance.