A former Roseville second-grade teacher physically assaulted at least three Black children in her class, segregated them from the other students and forced a child to put his hands behind his back as if under arrest, according to a federal civil rights lawsuit.

Parent Kirsten Lindsey's lawsuit alleges that Harambee Elementary School teacher Geraldine Cook choked her son and left him so traumatized that he had to transfer out of the district.

At least two other Black students in Cook's class were assaulted early in the 2019-20 school year, according to the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in St. Paul.

The suit also alleges that Harambee's principal tried to prevent Lindsey from learning that the white teacher assaulted her 7-year-old son, who has learning disabilities and underwent a mental health evaluation after the incident.

Several messages were left Monday with Cook, of Inver Grove Heights, seeking a response.

Cook's adult daughter, Ashley Cook, said Monday that her mother is now working for a physical therapy clinic and not able to come to the phone.

State records also show that Cook no longer holds a valid teaching license. She was first licensed to teach in the state in 1988, the records show.

District spokesman Joshua Collins declined to respond to the allegations other than to say Cook joined the district in August 2013 and resigned in December 2019. He said that "the safety and well-being of our students is our most important obligation, and we take any complaint of harm against a student seriously." The district is also named in the lawsuit.

At a Roseville school board meeting a month before Cook's departure, Ronald Lindsey, the boy's uncle, called for an investigation into the "assault and/or assaults being inflicted by staff upon minor children and the attempted coverup of these documented facts, not allegations."

The Ramsey County Attorney's Office declined to file felony charges in December 2019.

"There was no evidence that a crime occurred," said Maplewood police Sgt. Joe Steiner.

The case was not forwarded to the city attorney for consideration of lesser misdemeanor or gross misdemeanor charges, Steiner added.

The lawsuit seeks an unspecified monetary amount to compensate Lindsey and her son for an alleged civil rights violation.

One of Lindsey's attorneys, Joshua Newville, said Monday that "there has been some pre-litigation discussions with the school district, but not anything I'm prepared to talk about."

According to the suit:

Lindsey, a regular volunteer at the school in Maplewood, saw that Cook appeared overwhelmed and erratic, in particular when interacting with the Black children in her class.

Cook told Lindsey that she was struggling with that "particular group of students" and made a gesture toward the Black children, who were forced to sit apart in one portion of the classroom.

Lindsey brought her concerns to Principal Delon Smith, but neither he nor any administrator did anything in response.

About a month into the school year, Cook left Lindsey a voice message complaining that her son fails to speak appropriately to adults and wanted to know whether the boy is allowed to misbehave at home. Lindsay went to the school and discovered that Cook removed the child from the classroom. The teacher repeated her complaint to Lindsey about how the Black children behave.

After school one day in October, a girl in Cook's class came home with a torn shirt and told her mother that the teacher ripped it while pulling on her arm.

Less than a week later, another Black child in Cook's class said his teacher assaulted him and "doesn't like Black kids," the suit quoted the child as saying. The child added that Cook had "smooshed the faces" of the Black children in her class, and pushed, shoved and grabbed them.

At least six students told the principal about Cook choking Lindsey's son. Cook told the child she did so because she wanted him to swallow the water in his mouth and because he did not listen.

The principal ordered the child to not tell his mother about being choked, the lawsuit alleges.

It was about this time that Lindsey saw changes in her son's behavior and had him psychologically evaluated, which revealed signs of recent trauma.

Following the incident, Cook retaliated against the child and others, one time marching him to the principal's office "while forcing him to hold his hands behind his back like a criminal defendant," the suit read.

Also, the principal often put the child in a "behavioral support room" for unspecified reasons.

Lindsey eventually learned of the assault from her son when he told her that Cook was no longer his teacher.

Paul Walsh • 612-673-4482