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School bus ban prompts federal discrimination lawsuit

Matthew Lane • Apr 18, 2020 at 10:30 PM

GREENEVILLE — A Sullivan County parent has filed a $1.2 million civil rights lawsuit against Johnson City, claiming their son was wrongfully suspended from riding the school bus for three days.

According to the lawsuit, the parent claims the child, who is African-American, was discriminated against because of his race. The lawsuit was filed last month in U.S. District Court in Greeneville and names Johnson City as the lone defendant.

The plaintiff is listed only with the initials “E.D.” and is the parent of the student, “D.D.”

The lawsuit stems from an altercation that took place on a school bus in December 2019 between D.D. and a Caucasian student named “David.”

According to the lawsuit, David began bullying younger children on the bus and D.D. told him to stop. Then, David used a water bottle to spray water on other students, and D.D. grabbed the bottle.

The student claims David grabbed the water bottle back and began taunting him and calling him names. At that time, the two students began pushing each other with David taking a swing at D.D., the lawsuit states.

D.D. claims he was struck on the back of the head by David’s arm, with David then jumping on top of him. The lawsuit states the bus driver pulled the vehicle over and called the police, who arrived about 10 minutes later.

After speaking with the students, the police ordered them back on the bus, the lawsuit states. However, D.D. claims that Johnson City Transit Director Eldona Janutolo arrived shortly after, ordered D.D. off the bus and told him he was kicked off indefinitely.

“Get your bags and walk home,” D.D. claims he was told. The bus was about five minutes away from D.D.’s home. David, in turn, was allowed to reboard the bus and be driven home, the lawsuit states.

E.D. claims their son was discriminated against because he is African-American. D.D. claims he was suspended from using the school bus for three days. The family is seeking $300,000 in compensatory damages and $900,000 in punitive damages.

Knoxville attorney James Friauf, who is representing the family, had no comment on the lawsuit. Keisha Shoun, spokeswoman for Johnson City, said the city does not comment on pending litigation.

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