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Schools: LaVonne Sheffield served with defamation lawsuit
Posted By Jim Hagerty On April 7, 2011 @ 10:10 am In Happening Now | 11 Comments
Editor’s note: Click here  to view a pdf of the lawsuit.
By Jim Hagerty
Rockford Public School District 205 Superintendent Dr. LaVonne M. Sheffield was served with a defamation lawsuit Thursday morning, April 7.
The suit was filed in Winnebago County Circuit Court by Attorney Dan McGrail on behalf of education researcher Noel Hammatt.
While Hammatt was in Rockford speaking to District 205 parents in February, the lawsuit alleges Sheffield publicly accused him of being racially biased toward minority students.
According to the suit, Sheffield falsely stated that Mr. Hammatt, “distorts data and he believes minority students aren’t as bright, that they can’t learn, and that efforts to teach those children, quote, ‘those children’, and close the achievement gap are essentially a waste of time.”
The complaint alleges that Sheffield recklessly disregarded the truth and placed Hammatt in a false light.
It is unclear if Hammatt is seeking monetary damages.
The former president of the Louisiana School Boards Association, Hammatt said the case is more about protecting the Rockford community and his professional reputation.
“Such public, defamatory statements cannot be left unchallenged,” Hammatt said. “The totally fallacious claims the superintendent made that night in February, during the televised school board meeting, were clearly designed to stifle public participation and to have a chilling effect on those who would dare to question her policies.”
Hammatt, of Baton Rouge, La., works as an independent researcher and public speaker. He has also been an instructor at Louisiana State University.
Sheffield’s accusations in February were similar to statements she made about Hammatt when she was working for the Recovery School District in Louisiana, Hammatt said.
“She accused me of saying minority students–black students–couldn’t learn,” Hammatt said of the exchange. “I told her, ‘Absolutely not. That’s not what I said.’ I noted that there are differences in how students learn because of socio-economic and several other factors. But, she immediately pulled the race card.
“Dr. Sheffield chose to ignore the truth and instead lashed out at in a vicious attack to silence her critics,” Hammatt alleged.
District 205 has not been named in the suit.
“We are suing Dr. Sheffield individually,” McGrail said. “Mr. Hammatt is not seeking any damages from Rockford taxpayers.”
Sheffield was served with the lawsuit at approximately 8:30 a.m., today, outside the Administration Building.
It is not known when Sheffield and Hammatt are scheduled to appear in court.
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