Family sues NSA, teacher over restraint of child

Published 1:57 pm Friday, March 24, 2023

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By Jeff Moore and 

James W. Robinson

Staff writers

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Editor’s note: It is the policy of the Suffolk News-Herald to shield the identity of minors when naming them may cause harm to the child. To ensure the child’s identity is protected, parents’ names are also shielded here as that could expose the girl’s identity.

The family of a 3-year-old girl has filed suit against Nansemond-Suffolk Academy and one of its teachers seeking $750,000 alleging she suffered mind and bodily injury due to being restrained.

A lawsuit filed March 10 on behalf of the child by her parents alleges she was “physically immobilized with weighted blankets and chairs” at NSA’s Harbour View campus.

The document claims the child’s teacher Carole Mugaisi took these actions in the course of her duties at NSA.

The suit states that the girl was restrained and confined in the days and weeks prior to Jan. 17. It goes on to allege that Mugaisi placed weighted blankets on the child to restrain her, placed a chair over her, stating this is in violation of Virginia code that bans corporal punishment.

“As a direct and proximate result of Mugaisi’s acts, (the child) suffered physical injuries in the form of bruising on her arms, which her parents noticed, and corresponding mental anguish including, but not limited to, a fear of sleeping because of being tucked in under sheets and blankets,” the suit states.

The filing, by Booth Law PLLC of Virginia Beach, states Mugaisi and other NSA employees had an obligation to perform their duties responsibly, with “the requisite degree of concern for the children under their care.”

It claims Mugaisi breached these duties by improperly restraining her, placing weighted blankets and a chair on the girl, physically restraining her and using corporal punishment violated state law.

“Upon information and belief, NSA through their administration and supervisors had notice of Mugaisi’s — and potentially two other employees — inappropriate actions in restraining children,” the lawsuit alleges. “The notice occurred in December prior to the holiday break from school.”

It alleges the inappropriate physical restraint of children, including the child, resumed in January when the girl returned to school.

“Mugaisi was placed on leave and ultimately terminated from employment,” the filing states, adding that school administrators told (the child’s) parents about the timing of events.

“Further discovery may reveal additional facts regarding Mugaisi’s employment but, at a minimum, she should have been terminated or suspended immediately upon the discovery that she was inappropriately restraining 2- and 3-year-old children,” the lawsuit states.

In a March 3 letter to parents, NSA Head of School Debbie Russell said school administration called Child Protective Services and launched an internal investigation.

“We have been in close contact with the parents of the students who were involved and are awaiting a response from CPS. Working with our legal counsel, we have taken appropriate action in response to the situation to ensure that this

does not happen again,” Russell said. “The faculty members involved are no longer employed by NSA.”

The lawsuit alleges that NSA’s retention of Mugaisi resulted in the child suffering damages.

“As a direct and proximate result of the defendants’ actions and omissions, (the child) was injured in body and mind, caused to suffer pains of body and mind, anxiety, mental anguish, and medical treatment in the form of counseling and therapy,” the lawsuit alleges.

It asks the court to award  judgment against the defendants for $750,000, plus costs and pre-judgment interest.

Joel Rubin of Rubin Communications Group, who is providing public relations services for NSA, declined to comment on the lawsuit, citing “pending litigation.”

In the letter to parents, Russell said all Harbour View Campus lower school employees received additional training regarding “best practices in the classroom, mandatory reporting, safety protocols and expectations.”

“The safety and well-being of our students is our number one priority, and we take this responsibility very seriously,” Russell said.