‘It was never about money from day one’ | Lawsuit claims school system bears responsibility in first grader’s alleged suicide

ATTORNEY

Parts of a lawsuit accusing East Central ISD for causing the suicide of a first-grader were struck down in court. But significant parts of the suit still remain.

SAN ANTONIO — The East Central Independent School District fought off some layers of a wrongful death lawsuit involving first grader Jeffery Taylor. But a judge did not kick the case out of court.

“We filed this case over eight months ago now, and we’re just getting started,” Blerim Elmazi said.

Dallas-based Elmazi and Houston-based Bredric Berry represent Jeffery Taylor’s mother, Lakeshia Chaney. She believes East Central ISD bears responsibility for her son’s shooting death.

“It’s a very tragic situation and set of circumstances that this family is still having to deal with to this day,” Berry said.

Jeffery Taylor was a first grade student at Salado Elementary School in 2019. According to his mother, Jeffery was sad when the school left for Christmas break.

“Why are you so sad? This is the last day of school?” she said. “Shouldn’t you be happy? (It’s) Christmas break?”

Chaney said her 7-year-old told her about being called names at school, including racial slurs. Following a talk with Jeffery, her calls to the school went unanswered, likely because everyone had gone home for the break.

She and her husband, Jermaine, went out that night, Dec 20. They returned home, checked on the kids, and went to bed. Her husband said Jeffery was still alive.

By morning the story changed. The couple discovered Jeffery had shot himself in the head during the night or early morning hours.

Police rushed to the couple’s Channel View home in southeast San Antonio. After investigating the scene, San Antonio declared the shooting an accident, and the Bexar County Medical Examiner’s Office reached the same conclusion.

Chaney’s husband said they own that Jeffery found his mother’s gun hidden in a bible compartment under her bed. They were unaware Jeffery knew about or found the weapon until it was too late.

The mother said her quest to get answers from East Central ISD was unfruitful. But the school system said a multi-layered investigation did not reflect the accusations from Chaney.

“It was never about the money from day one,” Elmazi said. “Mrs. Chaney sought answers from the school district.”

She filed a wrongful death lawsuit against ECISD and Jeffery’s first-grade teacher, who Chaney said segregated him in class as a punishment. He was the only Black student in the class.

The suit sought punitive damages for racial discrimination, inability to teach, and prejudice against a child with disabilities—due to Jeffery’s ADHD. Chaney said it got worse when the teacher separated Jeffery from other students to discipline him, which impeded her son’s ability to learn.

“The bullying and harassment based on Jeffery’s race and based on his disability all occurred at the school,” Elmazi said. “All occurred with the East Central Independent School District.”

A federal judge and a federal magistrate trimmed parts of the lawsuit out. Rulings from the federal bench said Chaney could not pursue wrongful death claims or punitive damages.

“No other way to deter conduct of this unless we take it to a jury and we allow the citizens to decide if they know they were wrong,” Berry said.

The ruling also determined Jeffery’s teacher is immune from litigation, but the school system is not. His teacher can still be deposed, and the lawsuit can move forward on the racial and disability claims.

“We imagine the school district is going to continue fighting this tooth and nail,” Elmazi said.

The school district is fighting the claims but does so, recognizing Jeffery’s death in a statement:

The people of East Central ISD are saddened by the tragic loss of our student and our hearts go out to his family. Student safety is a priority, and we want our community to know that school district resources are available for students who may be struggling. In order to protect the privacy rights of all students, we cannot comment on pending litigation.”

Chaney has not given up a fight she believes will protect other students. KENS 5 discovered complaints of bullying and harassment are not exclusive to Jeffery, and ECISD did not comment on them.

“Ultimately, our goal is to get in front of a jury,” Elmazi said. “And we’re confident that if we can get there, then we can get some accountability and some justice for Jeffery.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that nearly 700 Black children died by suicide in the past two decades—children younger than 13.

RELATED: ‘Someone needed to stand up for Jeffery’ | Mother of SA first-grader who killed himself sues school district, teacher

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