“It was so traumatic for him, he still struggles,” said Cheyenne Johnson, the mother of a special-needs 12-year-old she says was strip-searched at school without her consent.
Johnson says her son was accused of bringing a gun to school, something she denies, adding, “he does not have access to a firearm.”
The gun accusations prompted school officials to strip-search the 12-year-old on more than one occasion and are the subject alongside other related incidents are the subject of a $2 million lawsuit filed against the Mt. Pleasant School District in Mt. Pleasant, Michigan, about 70 miles north of Lansing, Michigan.
Johnson says her son is diagnosed with attention deficit disorder (ADD), oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) and depression; all conditions she says are documented in his Independent Education Plan (IEP).
The lawsuit indicates, Johnson’s son has often been a victim of racial harassment and bullying in his predominantly white middle school. “A couple students jumped Xavier in the bathroom, physically put their hands on him, called him racial slurs,” Johnson recounted.
On Nov. 19, 2021, students at West Intermediate School accused Johnson’s son Xavier of having a gun, resulting in him being strip-searched then sent to in-school suspension in a secluded room, which violates his IEP, according to his mother.
Johnson says she was not immediately notified of the incident and only learned after her son texted her of the situation and sent a video of himself isolated in the school resource room, a location used for his ISS discipline measure.
“I never got any suspension papers, no evidence of anything for any accusation they made against him,” Johnson said. “They locked him in that room, told him he couldn’t use the bathroom unless his teacher felt like he could use the bathroom,” she continued.
Johnson says when she arrived at the school to get learn more details from school officials about her son’s predicament, she was never given a straight answer. “It was just like a circle, this person would get ahold of you, this person would get ahold of you, they never addressed the issue,” she said.
After the strip-search and being placed in a secluded room for ISS, Johnson attempted to transition her son to virtual school to avoid bullying, but, according to her attorney, Shawndricka Simmons, the Mt. Pleasant School District made this effort equally as challenging.
“She put him into virtual school, and they refuse to allow him to sign in, they didn’t give her the access and tools for her to educate this child virtually and kept marking him absent, knowing good and well she had a doctor’s note and a request that he no longer return to the school because it was no longer safe for him,” Simmons said.
Johnson says because Mt. Pleasant School officials failed to clear up unfounded rumors her son brought a gun to school, she couldn’t enroll him into another school, resulting in her moving out of the school district.
She hopes her lawsuit against the school district which asks for $2 million in damages and accuses the school of violating Xavier’s civil and constitutional rights helps bring some accountability from the district.
“When you get this lawsuit onto your doorstep, just know, I am not playing no games when it comes to this baby,” Simmons said.
“He doesn’t look like the majority of his peers being targeted for that and he’s been called out of his name continuously and staff has failed to do anything, and she has brought that to their attention prior to the gun incident and anytime he was called out of his name or called a racial slur, he got in trouble,” Simmons continued.
Atlanta Black Star contacted the Mt. Pleasant Public Schools Superintendent, Jennifer Verleger, on the allegations listed in the lawsuit which claims the district violated one of its former student’s civil and constitutional rights and violated his IEP, but after several phone calls and messages, Atlanta Black Star’s requests for comment or interview were not returned.
Johnson says her son is still undergoing therapy stemming from the incident. “Even with therapy, it’s something that’s going to follow him probably for the rest of his life unfortunately,” Johnson said.
Johnson hopes the lawsuit prompts people working for the Mt. Pleasant School District who failed her son lose their jobs. “If you can’t handle people’s children especially people’s children with disabilities, which you went to school for, you don’t deserve to be an educator or be around children at all,” Johnson added.