ACLU files lawsuit against school for accusing student of placing a "hex" on a teacher

Thursday, October 26th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

TULSA, Okla. (AP) _ A 15-year-old high school student allegedly accused of being a witch and casting a spell on a teacher filed a federal lawsuit Thursday against public school officials who suspended her last year.

Attorneys for the American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma say school officials also violated Brandi Blackbear's rights over an earlier suspension in which a short story with a reference to an armed student was taken from her.

``This little girl has suffered tremendously emotionally,'' attorney John Mack Butler said. ``Her constitutional rights have been trampled on.''

Defendants include the Union Public Schools, which encompasses part of the city of Tulsa, and nine school board members, principals and counselors.

The lawsuit claims violations of the first, fourth, fifth, ninth and 14 amendments to the U.S. Constitution and various breaches of the Civil Rights Act.

An attorney for the school district said it would ``defend itself vigorously.''

``We try our cases in the court house and not in the media,'' Doug Mann said.

Calls to several individual defendants were not immediately returned. The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages.

Blackbear is now a 10th-grader. According to the lawsuit, the first incident occurred a week after the Columbine High School shooting in Littleton, Colo.

Blackbear was in eighth-grade when she was suspended on April 28, 1999, after officials, acting on rumors of a possible gun, allegedly searched Blackbear's backpack in a locker and seized creative writings.

One story short contained a reference to a student caring a gun on a bus.

The controversial story, still supposedly in the hands of educators, was incomplete and contained no references to an actual shooting, said Blackbear, who once aspired to be a horror fiction writer in the vein of Stephen King.

The suspension was for 19 days but effectively took up the remainder of the school year. Blackbear's grades were frozen and she was allowed to advance to ninth-grade in the fall, Butler said.

Her father, Timothy Blackbear, said school officials overreacted.

``My daughter has done nothing except want to go to school and never missed a day until the eighth grade when she got suspended,'' Mr. Blackbear said.

The lawsuit also charges that due process rights were violated during a ``kangaroo-type court'' hearing the following day in which school officials allegedly told the parents it would futile to appeal the matter further.

School officials are also accused of rights violations for a second suspension last December. Blackbear was suspended for 15 days after officials purportedly accused her of being a witch and casting a hex on a teacher who had to be hospitalized.

Prior to the second suspension, the school was supposedly rife with rumors that Blackbear was a witch after she checked out a book in the fall of 1999 from the eighth-grade library that contained a section about the Wicca religion.

School administrators are accused of coercing Blackbear to confess that she was a witch who cast a spell on the teacher. But Blackbear said she's not a witch and does not practice the Wicca religion.

Blackbear said school officials discovered a five-pointed star with a circle she had drawn on her hand and said it as an occult symbol.

Blackbear said she had seen the emblem but did not know what it meant.

Rumors have subsided some, but Blackbear said she's still the object of suspicion among fellow students.

``People still make remarks and stuff in the hall. They'll like look at me and walk away really fast or they'll start talking about me behind my back,'' she said.

School officials allegedly said Blackbear could not display the star symbol and are accused of trying to suppress any inclination or expression of the Wicca religion.

Timothy Blackbear said he was amazed that the rumors about his daughter being a witch got out of hand and officials did little to quell them.

``When it got to more level-headed people, it just kept getting bigger,'' he said.

Blackbear, a Cherokee, said his daughter is Catholic.

Butler likened the actions of school officials to those who conducted the infamous Salem witch trials in 17th century Massachusetts.

He said if a student were suspended for laying hands on others and praying for them, nearby large and influential charismatic congregations and Bible schools would be up in arms.

Individual defendants named in the lawsuit include Jack Ojala, principal of Union Eighth Grade Center; Catherine Miller, a speech therapist and counselor at the center; Charlie Bushyhead, then an assistant principal at Union Intermediate High School; school counselor Sandy Franklin; and school board members Philip Barr, William Bruner, Derek Rader, Frank Spiegelberg and James Williams.

To see the text of the ACLU lawsuit, click here.