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‘Humiliating, Disgraceful, and Unacceptable’: Lawsuit Filed After Mother Claims an Ohio School Forced Her Daughter to Eat Food from the Trash

Latasha Williams, an Ohio mother, has filed a federal lawsuit against the Lorain City School District Board of Education and Monika Sommers-Fridenstine, a Palm Elementary School employee who is accused of forcing Williams’ 9-year-old daughter to eat food taken from a lunchroom garbage bin.

“It’s humiliating, it’s disgraceful, and it’s unacceptable,” Cleveland attorney Jared Klebanow told 19 News. “Every citizen, including children, has the right to bodily integrity. … The child victim had her constitutional rights violated by this educator. This is an educator hired to protect our children, not to degrade them and humiliate them.”

The suit, a copy of which has been obtained by Atlanta Black Star, was filed on behalf of Williams by Klebanow in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Ohio on Wednesday, Dec. 8.

The legal filing describes a series of events that began with the child being dissatisfied with her school lunch one day last month.

The mother’s filing states that on Nov. 21 — possibly an error, as that date was a Sunday —after taking a few bites of her waffles from her school lunch, Williams’ daughter got the attention of Palm Elementary School Principal Debra Pustulka and asked if she could have the other food option being served that day.

Pustulka refused the child’s request and told her she had to finish the meal on her tray, the family claims. The lawsuit states that students have two options available each day.

The fourth grader, who is Black, walked over to a nearby trash can and threw the food away. “Hundreds of other kids each day throw away the remaining food on their lunch trays without issue,” the document stated. 

Sommers-Fridenstine, who is white, had been standing next to the garbage bin when they were thrown away. She reportedly retrieved the waffles from the trash and instructed the young girl to get a paper towel.

“Not understanding why, but wanting to obey the adult’s request, Jane Doe retrieved a paper towel where she got her lunch and brought it back to Sommers,” the filing states. “Sommers told Jane Doe to go sit down and that she would be required to eat the waffles Sommers dug out of the garbage.”

The suit claims that Sommers-Fridenstine sat next to the girl glaring at her while “all the other kids began to laugh at her,” adding that the young girl began to feel ill after eating the food and later developed a fever. When she got home, she notified her mother of the incident. Since then, the child has suffered mental health issues and required treatment, the suit alleged. 

“How in the world could one of their employees feel this is OK or an appropriate remedy for any situation at all? In this instance, the Lorain City School District has failed,” Klebanow said in a statement. “The child is afraid of their school, doesn’t want to eat lunch at school. I think she will have trouble trusting educators and administrates moving forward.”

The investigation has since been launched. In a statement obtained by FOX 8, the district stated that “authorities responded in accordance with board policy and past practice by placing any staff member who could potentially be involved in incidents of this serious nature on immediate paid administrative leave, pending an investigation.”

They added, “While we are unable to comment on an ongoing investigation, we expect to have it completed soon. We will be able to comment at that time.” Two staff members have since been placed on leave, a spokesperson for the district revealed. The investigation is still ongoing. 

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