A new crosswalk painted in front of Warren Easton Charter High School in 2017. Credit: Marta Jewson / The Lens

A lawsuit filed in Orleans Parish Civil District Court last week accuses multiple Warren Easton High School football coaches of paddling a football player, a violation of Orleans Parish School Board policy banning corporal punishment.

The plaintiffs — who filed under the fictitious names “Jane Doe” and “John Doe” — are identified as a Warren Easton mother and her son. The son began attending the school last year as a 9th grader and joined the football team. The lawsuit alleges four football coaches subjected the freshman to “at least eight separate incidents of corporal punishment” with a paddle the coaches called “Big Freedia.”

The incidents caused the boy “great physical, emotional and mental distress” and his grades suffered, the lawsuit says. The boy eventually quit the team and transferred to another school using a “hardship transfer.” The district only allows students to transfer mid-way through the school year if they can prove a hardship, such as a health or safety concern.

David Garland, the president of Warren Easton’s governing charter board, told The Lens that the school was made aware of the allegation in October 2018 and investigated it.

“Our investigation did not uncover any evidence of the alleged event,” he said.

Garland said the New Orleans Police Department and the Orleans Parish School Board also investigated.

“There were no terminations,” he wrote in an email.

A spokeswoman for the Orleans Parish school district said the Orleans Parish School Board, which is named as a defendant — along with Warren Easton’s nonprofit charter management organization, the school’s principal, four coaches and two teachers — has not yet been served with the lawsuit and could not comment.

Though it’s illegal, under state law, to use corporal punishment on students with certain disabilities, the practice is otherwise legal in Louisiana, subject to the discretion of schools’ governing authorities. But the Orleans Parish School Board, which oversees Warren Easton, “prohibit[s] the use of any form of corporal punishment in any public school, program or activity under its jurisdiction, including direct operated or charter schools.”

Parent found out after student refused paddling, suit says

According to the lawsuit, the paddling began the first week of August 2018 during football practice.  The suit says that coaches told the players not to “snitch” to their parents.

Two times, the boy was pulled out of class and paddled by a coach, the lawsuit states, once for talking with teammates and another time for using his cell phone during class. The lawsuit also states he was paddled once for wearing an untucked shirt.

The four coaches “referred to the paddle as “Big Freedia,’ ” the lawsuit alleges. Because Big Freedia is a “well-known gay male musician”  the suit alleges that the nickname for the paddle “inappropriately sexualized their respective batteries” of the boy. The coaches’ “homophobic actions intendend to humiliate, demean and marginalize” the boy, the suit says.

According to the lawsuit, the boy quit the team in October when he was ordered to the locker room to be paddled and refused.  In response, a coach told him to “get the f-ck out,” the suit says. That’s the day his mom learned of the alleged incidents, reporting them to the school, district and police.

The lawsuit also names Principal Mervin Jackson, alleging he did not provide sufficient training to the football coaches. Two teachers are named for allegedly referring the student to football coaches for punishment.

Jackson told the mom paddling was legal in Louisiana, but didn’t mention the school district’s policy prohibiting it.

The lawsuit continues to say the school employees’ actions caused the boy “lasting emotional and mental distress.”

The lawsuit alleges several employees did not follow mandatory reporting requirements, a legal obligation for certain authority figures — including school employees — to report suspected child abuse to the state Department of Children & Family Services or to the police.

“To our knowledge all mandatory reporting requirements were followed and are included in our standard protocol,” Garland wrote.

Marta Jewson

Marta Jewson covers education in New Orleans for The Lens. She began her reporting career covering charter schools for The Lens and helped found the hyperlocal news site Mid-City Messenger. Jewson returned...