The family of a Collingswood third grader who was questioned by police at his school for making a remark a fellow student felt was racist has given notice of legal action against the district and other local authorities involved.
The incident caused a public outcry after it was revealed that borough schools reported nearly every incident of student misbehavior to law enforcement. The policy has since been reversed.
"We have a little boy who is wondering to himself: 'Why did this happen to me? What did I do that was so wrong that the police had to come get me? Will this happen again to me?' " said attorney Richard F. Klineburger III, who is representing the family.
Klineburger said he sent tort claim notices Tuesday to the school district, borough, police department, and Camden County Prosecutor's Office. The notices provide basic details of the incident and give the agencies a chance to resolve issues outside court.
The 9-year-old boy's remark was among 22 complaints Collingswood police investigated between May 25 and the end of school June 17.
During that period, officials in the district of 1,875 students began calling police even about minor issues, including a fight between two kindergartners, students' calling each other names, and a boy's drawing of a zombie holding a gun.
The policy was adopted after what has been described as a "misunderstanding" at a May 25 meeting between officials from the school district and the Prosecutor's Office.
The district, following sharp criticism from parents, reverted for the current school year to its old policy, which requires schools to report only serious incidents, such as those involving weapons, drugs, and sexual misconduct.
Superintendent Scott Oswald said Wednesday he had not yet seen the tort claim notice and could not comment. Police Chief Kevin Carey did not immediately return a call. A spokesman at the Prosecutor's Office said Wednesday he was asking Prosecutor Mary Colalillo whether she wanted to comment.
The incident involving Klineburger's client spurred widespread debate on social media and captured national attention.
It happened June 16 at an end-of-the-year class party at William P. Tatem Elementary School, after the 9-year-old boy made a comment about brownies being served to the class. Another student called the comment racist, and the school called police.
The boy said the brownies were "made out of burnt black people," according to a police report written by an officer who spoke to two third graders who said they heard the remark.
The boy told police he "did not mean to" make the remark and that he was sorry for making his classmates upset, the report said. He was not directing the statement at any particular students in the class, he told police.
The boy's mother, Stacy dos Santos, said in an interview in June her son was traumatized from the incident. She did not immediately return a call Wednesday.
"To this day their son is scared and he has suffered emotional distress," Klineburger said of the dos Santos' son.
He said that were a lawsuit to be filed, the family may seek financial damages for out-of-pocket expenses for therapy and other treatment.