The family of a teenage girl from Long Island say they are suing her school for $ 2 million after administrators failed to publish her poem about the death of George Floyd in the school magazine, claiming it was no ‘was’ not appropriate’ and possibly ‘dangerous’.
On Tuesday, the family of Ruby Ray, 16, a 10th grader at Vandermeulen High School in Port Jefferson, filed a notice of claim in the Suffolk County Supreme Court, an action that usually precedes a trial.
Ruby had written a poem called “Derek Chauvin’s Ode to George Floyd: A Black Sonnet”. Her parents say Ruby, who is white, faces discrimination from the predominantly white school because her poem “promotes the cause of African Americans.”
The notice of claim, which alleges a violation of Ruby’s First Amendment rights, came on the first anniversary of Floyd’s death, although the Ray family considers it to be a coincidence.
“I thought it was a free country and you have the right to express yourself however you want,” Ruby told the New York Post.
Scroll down for video
Ruby Ray, 16, holds her sonnet outside Vandermeulen High School in Port Jefferson
Ruby Ray (16), speaks with the press outside Vandermuelen High School, in Port Jefferson, New York, where Ruby is a student
Lawyer John Ray speaks to the press outside Vandermuelen High School to announce the lawsuit
The Ruby Ray sonnet she wrote and banned by her high school literary magazine
The notice alleges that school administrators banned Ruby’s sonnet “in order to please, protect, promote, appease and defend white racism in the school and the respondent community, and white racism in general”.
The claim claims Ruby’s First Amendment rights have been violated, names the principal of her school, as well as the faculty adviser for the literary magazine and the school district in general.
The claim mentions that the community and school district is made up of a large majority of white people: The New York State Department of Education says white students made up 81% of Vandermeulen High School during the year school 2019-2020.
Meanwhile, black students made up less than 1% of the student body last year, according to the Education Department.
The school’s magazine’s academic advisor, English teacher Matthew Sefick, told Ruby in an email, according to the Post: “It’s an emotional piece no matter how you look at it, and emotions run deep in an audience. … There is no back and forth like we do, and it can be dangerous.
Principal Eric Haruthunian said the school would not publish the poem, according to an email posted by The Post on Monday. District Superintendent Jessica Schmettan would not comment.
In New York City, at least 30 days must elapse between a notice of claim and filing a lawsuit, giving defendants time to investigate and intervene.
John Ray, Ruby’s father and lawyer, accused the school of being racist in comments to the New York Post.
“It’s just racist – it’s the only thing that drives him,” John said. “It’s a powerful poem. That says what there is to say.
Ruby’s poem is titled “Derek Chauvin’s Ode to George Floyd: A Dark Sonnet”, named in part for the policeman convicted of murder on Floyd’s death.
Ruby Ray stands alongside her father and lawyer John Ray outside Vandermeulen High School in Port Jefferson, New York, where Ruby is a student.
“It’s just racist – it’s the only thing that drives him,” John said. “It’s a powerful poem. He says what to say ‘
The poem reads as follows:
“From mom’s hands, you didn’t stand a chance. / The street, the ‘hood made you ashamed so young / To stand up, to control your situation. / “Black man, we’re going to fall for you,” proclaimed the white men; / “Stay on the ground”, they say, your fate is in our hands. / Obey, ok, obey me, I’m the cop / Who kneels on your bare soul, who stands / On your dark head until you stop / Your sorry cry for mom; don’t breathe. / I bring justice here, pressed on your neck. / If I decide, you now face certain death, / Deserved fate, because you wrote a bad check. / Can’t you breathe? So stop your black man drama, / I’m going to make you cry for “mom!” Mom!’
The poem includes multiple allusions to Floyd’s murder, including Chauvin pressing his knee to Floyd’s neck and Floyd’s screams for his mother as he was dying.
His family alleges that the school declared the poem “dangerous” by rejecting it from the magazine.
Vandermeulen High School in Port Jefferson, Long Island, where Ruby is a student
2019-2020 school year data shows high school is over 80% white
School officials reportedly said, “I agree your sonnet is well written. I hope you understand how delicate this can be on a subject … [it] can be dangerous … not only the student body reads the book, but also the faculty and staff … I do not think this article is appropriate.
The notice alleges that school officials believe “the white community would be offended and act against the sonnet that portrayed Derek Chauvin as a white racist.”
The district declined to comment on the allegations to DailyMail.com, saying it does not comment on the pending litigation.
Attempts by DailyMail.com to reach the school principal were unanswered.
The notice alleges that the school “refused to allow publication of the sonnet on the grounds that it would create adverse emotional reactions and conflict in the community, among students and faculty.”
The notice of claim was filed on the first anniversary of the death of George Floyd
Derek Chauvin, who is portrayed in Ruby’s poem, was convicted of murder in Floyd’s death
Floyd, 46, was killed on May 25, 2020 after Chauvin knelt on the man’s neck for more than nine minutes.
Last month he was convicted of murder and manslaughter and is awaiting conviction in that case.
Tuesday marked the first anniversary of Floyd’s death, which sparked protests across the country and around the world.
Further protests and rallies were held on Tuesday to commemorate Floyd, which included a minute’s silence for Floyd in Minneapolis, as well as the president’s reunion with Floyd’s family.