Jury selection began Thursday in a civil case that alleges gross negligence of Baltimore school system administrators, whom parents say failed to protect their two students from severe bullying.
The parents, Shawna and Edmund Sullivan, filed a $1.3 million lawsuit against the school system and two principals for the alleged assault and bullying of their special needs son and their daughter that they say took place at Hazelwood and Glenmount Elementary schools during the 2008-2009 and 2009-2010 school years.
The suit alleges that the principals of the schools ignored the Sullivans' repeated complaints about the abuse of their son — who attended first grade at Hazelwood and second grade at Glenmount — and failed to discipline the bullies, perpetuating the problem.
At Hazelwood, the suit says, the boy was choked unconscious by older students; at Glenmount, he was allegedly beaten by five fourth- to sixth-grade students.
The Sullivans' daughter, who attended fifth grade at Hazelwood, was subjected to verbal harassment, physical threats, battery, and theft and destruction of her property, according to the suit.
The suit also claims that some of the bullying against the students, who are white, was racially charged.
The lawsuit alleges a cover-up by school staff at Glenmount by "misrepresentations and falsified records relating to the bullying and battery incidents" suffered by their son and that they failed to involve school police.
The parents also alleged that staff made insufficient attempts to stop the bullying.
In one of the instances at Glenmount, the suit says, staff suggested keeping the boy safe by putting a cardboard box around him.
As a result of the abuse, the suit says, the boy feared attending school and had to be admitted to a psychiatric facility.
He suffers from nightmares, vomiting and other emotional disruptions, the suit says.
The Sullivans' daughter now attends a private school.
The parents said their concerns were ignored by Charlotte Williams, principal of Glenmount, and Sidney Twiggs, principal of Hazelwood.
Both principals appeared in court Thursday.
The city school system declined to comment on the allegations because the case is in active litigation.
In court Thursday morning, the school system's attorney, Quenton Herbert, said the district plans to call three to four witnesses. Donna King, attorney for the Sullivans, said the plaintiffs plan to call 10.
The trial is expected to last through next week.