The mother of an 18-year-old Minneapolis student on Thursday vigorously defended her daughter after the teen was charged with punching the principal of Harrison Education Center in the face and giving her a concussion.
Melody Dunigan said Principal Monica Fabre provoked her daughter, Lashawnte Bright, during the Dec. 7 confrontation. Fabre grabbed her daughter's coat and purse while ordering her out of the school, Dunigan said.
The principal "knew that would set her off," Dunigan said in an interview with the Star Tribune. "I feel like she provoked my daughter. Lashawnte isn't a perfect kid, but who is?"
In response, Fabre said, "I did not touch this child at any time. I did not lay one finger on that child." The principal, who is still recovering from her injuries and remains off-duty, added that there is video of the incident that supports her actions.
The school in north Minneapolis is geared to kids with severe emotional or behavioral disorders.
District officials were not available for immediate comment. Previously, they have said they are prevented by federal privacy restrictions from commenting on incidents involving students and staff members.
The mother acknowledged that Bright, who receives treatment for emotional challenges, has been suspended from school at least three times, once for 10 days.
Dunigan added that she's sorry that her daughter injured Fabre, adding, "I don't condone Lashawnte doing that. I put my foot down on that."
At the same time, she continued, "There were plenty of times I reached out to this person" regarding her daughter's behavior but had difficulty reaching Fabre.
"Where are you?" Dunigan said. "She's always in a meeting. …"
Dunigan said she's suspicious that the Hennepin County attorney's office waited until her daughter's 18th birthday to announce the charges. Bright was charged on Tuesday, the day before her 18th birthday, in a juvenile petition with felony third-degree assault and gross-misdemeanor fourth-degree assault of a school official.
"Her name is being dragged through the mud," Dunigan said. The county attorney's office declined to respond to the mother's comments.
On Wednesday, the day he announced the charges against Bright, County Attorney Mike Freeman said, "We can't have situations where principals and staff and teachers are being assaulted. We cannot accept disrespect and violence."
A rash of incidents
The case involving Bright and the principal is one of three instances of students assaulting staff members at Harrison in the past month or so. There also was another attack of a teacher in November at the district's River Bend Education Center, a K-8 alternative school, that sent the instructor to the hospital. That student was a 13-year-old girl.
Last week, district leaders called a news conference at Harrison to reassure the public that they were doing all they could to ensure a safe atmosphere at the school.
Earlier, on the day of the media briefing, a teacher was assaulted. Prosecutors have charged a 14-year-old boy in that case as a juvenile, but "that is all we can say about it because of his age," said Chuck Laszewski, spokesman for the county attorney's office.
In an assault on Dec. 8 on a Harrison paraprofessional, an 18-year-old student was cited by police, and the case is under review by the city attorney's office for possible misdemeanor charges. There's been no word from authorities on whether the River Bend incident has yielded charges.
Metro-area schools have been struggling with the issue of violence toward teachers for several months. In St. Paul, after a Central High teacher was choked into unconsciousness by a student on Dec. 4, Superintendent Valeria Silva began instituting corrective measures. She has reassigned administrators to spend part of their day at sites where fighting-related suspensions have surged.
Assault on student alleged
Police also have received at least one report of a teacher attacking a student. On Tuesday, Dana Lind, 40, reported to police that a River Bend staffer assaulted her 12-year-old son on Monday.
Lind said that when her son got locked out of his classroom, another student went to let him in and that's when the teacher threw her son up against the wall, giving him a knot on the back of his head. Lind received a call from a social worker at the school and the principal, she said.
The district, in response, said it put Quitman Kyles, a special-ed assistant, on administrative leave while it conducts an internal investigation.
"These kids are going to these schools for a reason, because they [have] special needs," Lind said. "They get there and are getting abused."
Staff writer Beatrice Dupuy contributed to this report.