Attorney: Time for Barrington School Committee to apologize

Still unclear how much school district paid to fight case

By Josh Bickford
Posted 2/13/20

The lawsuit has been dismissed, but the attorney who represented a local student who was wrongfully suspended by Barrington school officials believes the school committee owes that student and his …

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Attorney: Time for Barrington School Committee to apologize

Still unclear how much school district paid to fight case

Posted

The lawsuit has been dismissed, but the attorney who represented a local student who was wrongfully suspended by Barrington school officials believes the school committee owes that student and his family an apology.

Earlier this month, the Barrington School Committee dropped its Rhode Island Superior Court lawsuit against a former eighth grade student and the Rhode Island Department of Education. The school committee had been appealing a ruling by the RIDE commissioner who determined that local school officials were wrong to suspend the student after he and some classmates were overheard discussing school shootings during lunch one day.

Aubrey Lombardo, the attorney who represented the student throughout the dispute, said the family is happy to move past the ordeal but is still upset about what happened.

"I know they feel very aggrieved… I know they want an apology," Ms. Lombardo said. "I think that would go a long, long way."

Earlier this month, the school committee released a statement regarding its decision to drop the lawsuit and instead seek an advisory opinion from the RIDE commissioner's office. The statement did not include an apology.

"The Committee at no time sought to subject the student in E. Doe to public scrutiny or to compromise in any way that student’s confidentiality or educational welfare," stated the release. 

"By asking directly for clarification on what has become a challenging and complicated area of education law, the Committee hopes to move the discussion away from any focus on the student and toward clarity on how to implement lawful and best practices in future circumstances."

Also, in a letter to the editor in this week's Times, longtime Barrington resident and journalist Jim Hummel shared his criticism regarding school officials' handling of the situation.

"I had hoped to see the School Committee and Supt. Michael Messore come to their collective senses and personally apologize to the student and his family for filing a lawsuit to begin with..." Mr. Hummel wrote.

"I also expected them to publicly apologize to taxpayers for spending money on a lawsuit that created terrible optics."

The Barrington School Department has refused to disclose how much money it has spent on the student suspension case. Despite numerous requests for that information, school officials and the law firm representing the district have refused to disclose the total. The Barrington Times has filed a complaint with the Rhode Island Attorney General's office in an attempt to get that information. To date, the AG's office has not ruled on the complaint.

Ms. Lombardo, who took on the case pro bono, said the legal battle carried a price tag of about $15,000 to $20,000 for her firm. She anticipates that the school department's firm, Corrente, Whelan and Flanders, has billed the school district even more. She said that firm likely bills at a higher rate. She said that firm also sent multiple attorneys to some of the hearings.

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