Lower Manhattan Parents Allege Years of Racism and Bullying in Civil Rights Lawsuit Against BOE and Village School District

By Arthur Z. Schwartz

A Black family whose children attend the Peck Slip School, blocks from City Hall in the South Street Seaport area has filed a lawsuit against the City’s Education Department and leaders of a public school alleging that the school, school district and City officials enabled and downplayed years of racism and bullying against the family’s two children and failed to act on repeated complaints.

THE PECK SLIP SCHOOL. Photo courtesy of Community Board 1.

Amos and Tiffany Winbush said in a lawsuit filed in mid-February that their children “have endured unimaginable racism, physical and emotional trauma” during their time at the Peck Slip School, a public elementary school. The Winbushes said their children are two of only a few Black students who attend the school, which is predominantly White.

“Teachers and school officials have fostered, enabled, and perpetuated a racially hostile environment at Peck Slip, and that environment has emboldened students to harass and abuse the Winbush children physically and emotionally,” the lawsuit says.

The lawsuit accuses school officials of allowing the abuse against the Winbush children “to continue semester after semester, even though Amos and Tiffany Winbush have complained ceaselessly.”

“For years, the Winbushes have begged school administrators to intercede to stop the harassment and abuse their children are suffering, but their cries have consistently fallen on deaf ears,” the lawsuit said.

The lawsuit details seven years of allegations of bullying and racist incidents that the Winbush family says their daughter and son, who are now 10 and five years old, were subjected to. According to the lawsuit, the abuse has included multiple instances of White students ridiculing the Winbushes’ daughter over her hair and appearance, a student spitting in their son’s face, both of their children being assaulted and kicked by other students, as well as a student ripping their son’s shirt and threatening “to kill him” on several occasions.

The lawsuit names the New York City Department of Education; Board of Education of the City District of New York; New York City Community School District 2 (which includes part of Greenwich Village); and Peck Slip principal and assistant principal Maggie Siena and Casey Corey as defendants.

The lawsuit alleges that the defendants violated the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the 14th Amendment by discriminating and retaliating against the family. The lawsuit requests a jury trial and seeks compensatory and punitive damages.

The Winbush family said in the lawsuit that they reached out to school officials repeatedly to stop the harassment, but have been met with “indifference” and even retaliation.

“It is unimaginably painful for a parent to know that their child must attend a school where they will be exposed to racism and daily threats,” the lawsuit said. “This persistent abuse, and school officials’ indifference, has had a demoralizing impact on the Winbush family.”

The Winbush family said in the lawsuit that their daughter is now in therapy “to help her cope with the trauma and psychological injury she has suffered” and that they had to seek medical care for their son “and provide him extra emotional support following the vicious assaults on him at school.”

The suit asserted that earlier in February their attorneys sent a letter to school officials, district officials and the Department of Education to request a meeting to discuss the ongoing harassment.

The letter said that the Winbushes “have submitted complaint after complaint of incidents of discrimination and harassment, but the Peck Slip School and District 2 have failed to ensure the Winbush children receive a basic right to education in a place that is safe and free from discrimination,” according to the lawsuit.

In a TV interview, Amos Winbush said no one has yet responded to the letter from his attorneys.

He said that instead, the school principal and assistant principal pulled his daughter aside to discourage her from making additional complaints and told her that her experiences were “hard to believe” because they differed from that of other students, according to Winbush and the lawsuit.

Winbush said he and his wife felt compelled to file the lawsuit after years of inaction from school and education officials. He said the family has met with school officials and reached out to others at the district and City level.

Winbush said he believed the next step he had to take was to file a lawsuit so his family could “have a voice” after being met “on the school level, on the district level, on the Department of Education level with denial, refusal, indifference and racism directed to us.”

Winbush said he and his wife think about taking their children out of Peck Slip “every day,” but he does not want to send the message to his children that “when adversity hits them, that they needed to run and leave it unfinished and never actually reap the benefits of seeing that change actually happen.”

He referenced reports that New York has been found to be the most segregated state for Black students and said that even if they switched schools “we can’t unzip the Blackness that we walk around with every single day.”