Education

Human Rights Commission backs student in discrimination claim against Milton Middle School

A Milton Middle School student may have faced illegal discrimination based on his learning disability, according to a report released by the Vermont Human Rights Commission. 

In a 4-1 vote Sept. 23, the commission found that there were “reasonable grounds” to believe that Milton Middle School and the Milton Town School District illegally discriminated against him. 

According to the complaint, the student’s social studies teacher repeatedly asked the student in front of the class if he had taken his medication throughout the 2020 spring semester. The complaint asserts that this humiliated the student, created a “hostile environment” and revealed his private medical information to his peers. 

The commission also determined that the school acted with “deliberate indifference” to the issue by conducting a brief investigation before concluding the claims were “unsubstantiated.”

The Human Rights Commission investigation, which was conducted by staff attorney and investigator Cassandra Burdyshaw, was set in motion when the student’s mother filed a complaint on his behalf. He is identified by initials in the report. VTDigger is not naming the mother to protect the privacy of the student, who is a minor. 

With the finding, the commission now has six months to settle the matter before pursuing legal action, such as a lawsuit claiming a violation of Vermont’s Fair Housing and Public Accommodations Act. 

John McKelvie, an executive staff assistant at the Human Rights Commission, said it would have no comment on the matter.

The Burlington Free Press first reported the case Tuesday

The student has been diagnosed with both oppositional defiant behavior and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, according to the report, and would take daily medication either in the nurse’s office at school or at home before school. 

The teacher, Katrina Antonovich, taught him social studies during his seventh and eighth grade years. 

Antonovich refuted in the report that she asked the student directly about his medical information. Instead, she told Burdyshaw, she would ask if he had “checked in with the nurse,” something she said teachers commonly ask students because “the nurse’s office also serves as a Wellness Center, where students can take a break, check in with an adult for physical or emotional needs, or engage in mindfulness activities.”

When contacted by VTDigger, Antonovich hung up the phone and did not answer subsequent calls. 

Milton Middle School Principal Brandy Brown and Milton Town School District Superintendent Amy Rex did not respond to requests for comment. 

The issue was first brought to the school’s attention in February 2020 by Courtney LaCasse, a nurse who regularly worked with the student and grew concerned when Antonovich was regularly calling in to see if he had taken his medication, according to the report. She said she told Antonovich that she could not disclose medical information about the student, but the calls continued.

Another nurse, Dory Demers, told Burdyshaw she repeatedly told Antonovich that whether or not the student took his medication was between the nurse and the student. However, Antonovich continued to speak about the student’s medication in class and with her aide, who she sometimes sent with the student to the nurse’s office to verify that he took his medication, according to the report. Demers said she also explained to Antonovich that this was illegal. 

When LaCasse eventually raised concerns about Antonovich’s questions concerning the student’s medication, co-Principal Brandy Brown conducted an investigation, which spanned 11 days, and found the claims were unsubstantiated. 

The commission’s report determined that the school acted with “deliberate indifference” after Brown and Rex were alerted to the issue by the student’s mother, the school nurse and the student himself — and failed to act.

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Grace Benninghoff

About Grace

Grace Benninghoff is a general assignment reporter for VTDigger. She is a 2021 graduate of Columbia Journalism School and holds a degree in evolutionary and ecological biology from the University of Colorado.

Email: [email protected]

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