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School lawsuit headed to trial

NATCHEZ — The federal lawsuit filed by former West Elementary School Principal Cindy Idom against the Natchez-Adams School District appears to be headed to trial.

The case, filed in May 2014, names the district, Superintendent Frederick Hill and Deputy Superintendent Tanisha Smith as defendants.

Idom was fired by the district at the beginning of the 2013-2014 school year after 11 years as a principal at West Elementary School, and shortly after she was reassigned to Frazier Elementary School against her wishes.

In the filing Idom alleges — among other things — she was bullied for racial reasons and faced standards black principals did not. Idom is white, and Hill and Smith are black.

The court had set Thursday as the date for a settlement conference in the matter, but in a minute entry before the court, the parties noted the matter had not reached a settlement. The trial is set for Aug. 3.

“We have one more pre-trial conference with the judge, but there are not more obstacles before trial,” said Ken Adcock, a senior partner at Adcock & Morrison, the firm representing Idom. “There is still a possibility of settlement, but we have tried two times at two different conferences and we haven’t come close.

“We feel strongly about our case and look forward to having a jury to determine the outcome.”

Attorney Tucker Mitchell of the Mitchell Day Law Firm, which is representing the school district in the matter, declined to comment on the matter.

Idom’s lawsuit alleges West Elementary was not able to meet the needs of an increased student population during the first year of the district’s restructuring to neighborhood schools from grade-based schools, and portable buildings meant to address the issue were unusable during the school year.

The lawsuit likewise claimed good teachers were transferred out of the school while “subpar” teachers were transferred in, and Idom received censures in situations for which black principals in the same situation did not.

The lawsuit also claims, “During the … school year, defendants Hill and Smith, acting on behalf of the district, constantly harassed (Idom) and deliberately created a hostile work environment at West Elementary that was pervasively abusive, intimidating and affected (her) work — all on account of her race and/or which other African-American principals in the district did not receive.”

The filing alleges Hill and Smith would “try to scare teachers into performing their job” by visiting West every two weeks and peeking into classrooms.

“(Idom) was constantly frustrated and exhausted from the demanding, high pressure environment created by them,” it states.

Idom’s suit alleges the transfer to Frazier did not give her an opportunity to improve test scores at West — which had only one year of testing behind it — and when she was removed as principal at Frazier, she was offered a teaching position. The lawsuit calls the teaching offer “a degrading demotion.”

It also claims the removal was premature.

“Hill and Smith alleged that the district’s test results for the 2012-2013 school year provided the basis for (Idom’s) abrupt removal from office and demotion, yet at that time the results were unavailable,” the federal filing says.

The lawsuit alleges Idom had to submit retirement papers that day to avoid the embarrassment associated with being demoted, and she was never allowed an opportunity for a hearing.

Idom was the only principal removed that year.

Idom seeks unspecified damages for lost past and future wages; mental anguish and emotional distress; damages to reputation, pain and suffering, humiliation and embarrassment; actual and compensatory damages; incidental and consequential damages; punitive damages; attorney’s fees and “other damages to be established.”

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