A Parent’s Agony

By Danny L. White
Special to the NNPA from The Arizona Informant

PHOENIX (NNPA) – An 11-year-old African American male student at Laveen Elementary School was cited, processed and held overnight at the Durango Juvenile Court Center recently for an incident listed as an alleged aggravated assault against one of his teachers.

The matter has drawn the attention of the Maricopa NAACP and the ACLU, both of whom are conducting separate investigations.

“I have never felt so helpless as a parent, as a father or as an adult than when I attempted to intervene on this madness a few weeks back and was denied at every point to speak or connect with my son,” said Michael Lambert, who said he continues to experience the mental and emotional discomfort as a result of the matter.

Monday, March 4, began as any other day in the Lambert household. Michael Lambert, a single parent, prepared for work and his youngest son (whose name being withheld because he is a minor) and his two other children, a son, 18, and daughter, 16, prepared for school.

Neither the father nor the son realized how the day would unfold and it would be the next morning before they would actually see each other again.

At approximately 1:35 p.m., Lambert received a call from Rochelle Elliott, the principal at King’s Ridge Preparatory Academy, who informed him that his son had been involved in an incident at the school. Elliott, who was not in the school at the time, confirmed to Lambert his son was not injured  and would be allowed to return to his class once he calmed down.

“My mind began to race; I was trying to process what I was hearing. I have never had to go to any of my son’s schools for disciplinary reasons. He is not that dude. My son is a good student, his grades are all exceeds or meets. He loves school. I was confused,” said Lambert.

“I called the school immediately and spoke to a lady who confirmed my son was in the office area, she let me speak to my son who informed me of what happened in the class. I advised my son not to return to class and I also advised the lady (secretary/attendance clerk) my son was not to return to his class and that I was on my way.”

Then Lambert received a second call from the principal.

“Ms. Elliott called back as I was proceeding to the school. I informed her I was on my way to the school and my son was not to go back into the classroom. She confirmed that she, too, was going to the school and would meet me there.

“When I arrived at the school I was met by a person I later learned is Mr. Huerta, the ISS (In School Suspension Officer). I needed to get inside so I do not spend anytime speaking to him, but a red Impala pulls up and the associate superintendent, Mr. Gutierrez, jumps out… ‘Mr. Lambert, Mr. Lambert, let me talk to you.’  My goal is to get inside the school and see my son and find out what is going on or what has happened, but I stopped and listened to Gutierrez who informs me my son will be released to me in 25 minutes. He just needs to meet with the principal and others inside to sort the matter out.”

Lambert reports he was taken to a back office where ISS Coordinator Huerta sat with him and in approximately 25 to 30 minutes, Elliott and Gutierrez, the two school officials, along with a police officer informed him his son would be taken to Durango and processed.

“’What?…..Processed?’ I almost lost my mind,” recalled Lambert, still unsure or fully aware of what had transpired to have his son first, in the school office and now being processed and taken to the juvenile detention center.

“I asked to speak to my son, I asked how and what he was doing and was told I would be able to speak to him later when I picked him up from Durango.

“I was denied the right to see my son at the school. He is 11 and in the fifth grade and they were treating him like a criminal. I am from L.A.; I know what the system can do to a person even at a young age. That is not my son. Nothing about him is criminal or street,” said Lambert.

Operating on fumes of anger and emotions full of confusion, Lambert reports he attempted to hold it together. Arriving at Durango, Lambert inquired of his son and was informed his son was at another site being processed and he would arrive by 6:30 p.m.

“Every hour on the hour I would ask what was going on and I was told my son was still being processed. My son did not arrive at Durango until 10:45 p.m. and I was told most likely he would not be released.

“I had sat and waited for close to four hours and now I am being told my son was not going to be released and he would have to spend the night in detention. I was beyond upset but I realized going off would not help my son or myself, so I did everything in my power to try and stay calm,” said Lambert.

After finally being allowed to speak to his son, Lambert was still upset but enjoyed brief solace in seeing his son. The disappointment was that his son would not be released until the next morning following a 9:30 a.m., appearance before a Juvenile Court judge.

“My son, my little dude, asked me ‘Dad where have you been? Are you going to get me?’ I told my son I was working on getting him out. He asked if I could just come and sit with him….It was all I could do to hold it together,” said Lambert.

Returning to his car almost transfixed, speechless and near motionless, eyes wide open and seeing nothing, not knowing whether to drive home or just sit in the parking lot all night. Lambert decided on the former, fearing his other two other children would be worried he failed to return home that evening.

After arriving at the Detention Center early the next morning, Lambert was advised that his son would be released and would not have to go before a judge. Instead, he was informed of a diversion program that once successfully completed, would remove the charges from his record.

“I had a chance to speak to my son about what happened and he is not going to admit to something he did not do. This is absurd,” said Lambert.

Lambert says he has been informed that a final decision on whether to file charges against his son will be made in four to six weeks.

The Arizona Informant has obtained a copy of the report written by King’s Ridge ISS Coordinator John Huerta, who interviewed the classroom teacher involved as well as Lambert’s son.

According to the report, on the morning of the incident in question, young Lambert and several of his his fifth grade class were playing a game known as “pay back” in which a person pays back someone for doing something to them or taking something  that belongs to them. Young Lambert hid his friend’s backpack

Instead of playing along, the friend announced that he was going to punch whoever took his backpack. When the teacher saw things were getting out of hand, the teacher asked who had taken the bag.

Without hesitating, young Lambert acknowledged taking the backpack. He stood to say, “I took the backpack,” (the same statement made to his father and the ISS representative).

At this point, the focus shifted from Lambert’s classmate to interaction with the classroom teacher saying either young Lambert or hid section was stupid or something was stupid?

Young Lambert recalled replying, “I am not stupid!”

His father said, “My son said he was attempting to leave the classroom when the teacher, grabbed him by his shirt, pushing him against the wall or bookcase. In an effort to break free from the teacher’s grasp, Lambert shouted ‘Get off me,’ and grabbed the teacher’s shirt as well,” according to his father.

Lambert also relayed that his son said the teacher turned him around and grabbed his arm and pinned it hard against the youth’s back. The teacher then told the youth: “I will break your arm if you get in my face or don’t sit down.”

Lambert broke free and went to the office.

According to the report written by ISS Coordinator Huerta, the teacher reported that he “gently placed his hands” on young Lambert in an attempt to calm him down. The elder Lambert does not believe the teacher’s version of events.

“I was furious,” he said. “That man put his hands on my son who is only 11 years old and weighs 65 pounds soaking wet. My son should not have been subjected to those things. It is not in my son’s character to talk back or act out. He doesn’t do those things.”

The elder Lambert said other students have given him statements corroborating his son’s account of the incident. Meanwhile, Lambert has removed his son and enrolled him in another school.

Messages seeking comment from King’s Ridge Principal Rochelle Elliott were not returned.

Maricopa NAACP President Rev. Oscar Tillman stated this incident should never have gotten to the point it did. “We hear often of the incident of name calling and bullying by student to student. A child should not have to also hear offensive words from adults whether a parent or a teacher. Stupid, dumb, silly are not words that one would expect coming from the front of the classroom. We will do everything in our power to get to the bottom of this. Our children, all children should go to school each day free from threats and name calling, especially by teachers.”