After successfully fending off accusations of discrimination from one teacher and settling claims with another, elite private institution Lakeside is back in court. Regina Higgins began teaching history in the middle school in 1999. Over the next several years, she claims, she helped create the current sixth grade history curriculum and an outdoor program and brought the Geography Bee to the school. She also served on the admissions committee and coached soccer and basketball.
Nevertheless, Higgins says the school told her in January that her contract would end in June. On June 3, she sued the school in King County Superior Court for discrimination.According to Higgins, who is African American, her decade at the school was marked by racial tensions. In court documents she points to a 2000 meeting to discuss race. She claims someone in attendance made a comment about being uncomfortable discussing the subject with her there.
On top of that, she says, the administration let offensive comments by students or faculty slip by. Once, she says, an African-American student complained to her about a teacher that had the students do a history re-enactment wherein all the black kids were cast as slaves and the white kids as slave-owners. Higgins says she brought the matter to the school, which took no action. She was also told to change her persona to make parents more comfortable, she claims.
But according to the complaint, Higgins believes the real impetus for letting her go at the end of this year was her support for teachers Chance Sims and Novella Coleman in a 2006 discrimination suit. Sims and Coleman both successfully fought a controversial invitation to conservative author Dinesh D'Souza to speak at the Lakeside campus, but eventually resigned their positions, saying the school was unsupportive of minority teachers. (See Nina Shapiro's cover story on the Sims and Coleman cases.) Higgins gave a deposition in support of the teachers during the course of that suit.
Coleman's claims were thrown out by a judge and Sims settled with Lakeside. Representatives of Lakeside and their attorneys did not respond to requests for comment left earlier today.
Higgins' attorney Susan Mindenbergs says she believes her client's case can stand up to the reasoning behind tossing Coleman's claims. Mindenbergs adds that she took the case on because "It's important for all of us to know that we have rights and that we have remedies when our rights our violated."