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Mother of boy locked in 'cage' at Seattle school files lawsuit

caption: Jaleel and Janelle Williams,  identified here by their middle names, pose for a self-portrait.
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Jaleel and Janelle Williams, identified here by their middle names, pose for a self-portrait.
Courtesy of Janelle Williams

Seattle Public Schools faces a new lawsuit after a principal repeatedly locked an 8-year-old boy in an outdoor enclosure that staff referred to as "the cage."

Witnesses told district investigators that sometimes the boy, Jaleel Williams, was kept in the fenced, covered area for hours, and sometimes all day.

Because there were no table or chairs in the area, he ate his lunch on a concrete floor, in view of other students who played outside the enclosure.

READ THE INVESTIGATION: "Locked in ‘the cage.’ Report finds disturbing discipline measures at Seattle school," by Ann Dornfeld

Jaleel has changed schools now, but his mother, Janelle Williams, said her son still suffers from the trauma of that experience.

She filed suit this week (Sunday) in King County Superior Court, seeking financial damages of an amount to be determined by the court. Jaleel and Janelle are identified here by their middle names to protect their privacy.

Williams said she hopes the lawsuit will expose other instances of inappropriate discipline in Seattle schools.

“If this happened to my son, this could happen to everyone," Williams said. "A lot of people have gone through this. They’re either too scared to speak up and say something because of the repercussions, and trust me, I’ve seen plenty of those. But, I mean, it’s not right. Like Martin Luther King said, injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere, right?”

The lawsuit claims the boy, who is Black and homeless, was treated differently than other students in the mostly white, affluent school.

Williams said despite all the attention her son's situation has gotten, she's still struggling to get him educated safely.

“The school has him with a behavior therapist," Williams said. "I really like her, and I appreciate her. She really shows that she’s supporting my family. But for some reason the district wants to take her support away from us, and they’re telling me she can’t pick my son up, which is weird, especially when the bus isn’t coming like it’s supposed to.”

The behavior therapist's extra help had meant a lot, Williams said, because she's raising her four kids alone while trying to find a stable place to live... while pursuing a nursing degree.

Williams said the financial relief she's seeking in the lawsuit would help pay for things that would help her son, such as a stable place to live and one-on-one counseling to help him move past the trauma he endured at school.

Seth Rosenberg, a lawyer with Seattle Litigation Group, which is representing Williams, said the "cage" where Jaleel Williams was locked seems to have been used only in the case of one child. But he said his office is facilitating complaints from other parents, showing a wider pattern of abuse at View Ridge Elementary School.

"There were other things that went on there, that we expect will come to light, that, while not quite as appalling, were disturbing all the same," Rosenberg said. "Our expectation is that by the end of this, we will find that it was a systemic violation, not just for this one child."

Seattle Public Schools spokesperson Tim Robinson said Monday the district does not comment on lawsuits.

In an earlier statement responding to KUOW Reporter Ann Dornfeld's investigation of the incident, the district called the incidents at View Ridge egregious, wrong, and unacceptable.

During Dornfeld's 2020 investigation, the principal of View Ridge Elementary School, Ed Roos, resigned.

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