On July 30, 2012, the Camden City Board of Education (Camden County) agreed to pay $500,000 to seven Hispanic, fifth graders who were students at the Sumner Elementary School.  The seven students claimed that Vice Principal Theresa Brown forced them to “eat lunch on the floor of the cafeteria without trays” as punishment for one student spilling a jug of water.  According to the lawsuit, Brown allegedly threatened the children with further punishment if they told anyone about the punishment.  Each of the seven students will receive $71,428.57, less their share of their attorney fees to be calculated by the court.

On October 23, 2009, the Board settled with Jose L. Rivera, the students’ teacher, who claimed that he was retaliated against for bringing public attention to the cafeteria punishment. More on that settlement is available here.

The students’ case is captioned J.G., et al v. City of Camden Board of Education, Federal Case No. 1:10-cv-01047 and seven students’ attorney was Alan B. Schorr of Cherry Hill.  Case documents are on-line here.

None of students’ allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement implies that the $500,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by the Camden Board or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that the Camden Board or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay seven students $500,000 than take the matter to trial. Perhaps the defendants’ decision to settle was done to save further legal expense and the costs of trying what were in fact exaggerated or meritless claims. Or, perhaps the claims were true and the defendants wanted to avoid being embarrassed at trial. This is the problem when cases settle before trial–it is impossible to know the truth of what really happened.

Chairman of the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project. Please send all comments to [email protected]