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Lawsuit alleges bullying of Afro-Latino pupil at N.J. Catholic school

The civil rights case describes racist bullying at Saint Joseph Regional School in Somers Point—including mistreatment by a Catholic nun.

Saint Joseph Regional School in Somers Point, New Jersey. (Suzanne Marino/The Press of Atlantic City)

The parent of an Afro-Latino child, a former student at Saint Joseph Regional School in Somers Point, New Jersey, has filed a racial discrimination lawsuit against the school and the Diocese of Camden, alleging years of anti-Black abuse and a lack of adequate response from the preK-8 institution's leaders.

The legal action was first reported by The Press of Atlantic City earlier this month.

A filing from March 14 in the U.S. District Court of New Jersey accuses Superintendent of Schools Dr. William Watson and Saint Joseph principal Janice DeCicco Fipp of negligence following reports of bullying made by Julie Rodriguez.

Rodriguez’s Black and Hispanic son, identified in court documents as J.R., attended kindergarten to seventh grade at Saint Joseph, which was founded in 1958 by the Sisters of St. Joseph. The alleged discrimination is said to have begun during the student’s second-grade year in 2015, continuing through his seventh-grade year in 2022.

A nun, Sr Judith Ann Loschiavo, SSJ, is alleged to have removed the pupil from a pew during a school Mass for his First Communion to place him in a pew with African Americans, “as she believed he was seated with the wrong family,” according to the complaint filed by Rodriguez.

She alleges her son was later called racial slurs by his fellow students, which she reported to Principal Fipp. She says no action was taken by leaders at the school, which has predominantly White student enrollment.

Fipp later disciplined J.R. for making threats to a student he alleges said “kill all Blacks” during school hours and later sent a text message to other students saying, “i hate black people.”

Following J.R.’s reaction, court documents say, Fipp suspended J.R. from school and informed Rodriguez he could not return until he had completed a mental health evaluation. According to Rodriguez, J.R. denied ever voicing a threat to the other student.

“Due to Defendants’ inaction, on May 25, 2022, Plaintiff Rodriguez withdrew J.R. from St. Joseph and transferred him to a local public school,” the lawsuit says.

Rodriguez is seeking damages for her son due to alleged violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination based on race, color, or ethnicity. She is also suing under the Consumer Fraud Act, as she continued to pay tuition and fees to Saint Joseph School even as school administrators allegedly ignored her son’s unfair treatment.

“[The defendants] breached their duty of care by protecting the School’s reputation instead of providing J.R. with a safe and orderly educational environment,” court documents state.

Neither the Diocese of Camden nor Saint Joseph Regional School has publicly acknowledged the lawsuit, nor did they respond to a request for comment from BCM.

Nate Tinner-Williams is co-founder and editor of Black Catholic Messenger.

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