Updated suit alleges drunken teacher, unreported gun and cover-up by St. Pius X School

By Brendan Kirby
May 22, 2015

Rev. Johnny Savoie ... named as defendant in suit against St. Pius X.

New allegations against teachers and administrators at St. Pius X School in Mobile paint a picture of a school out of control – a drunken teacher, attempts to cover up a gun brought to school by a student and unpunished assaults.

Those details are in an updated, 41-page lawsuit filed this week by lawyers for a group of former students at the Catholic school. The updated suit also accuses school officials of destroying disciplinary records in an effort to evade lawyers for the plaintiffs.

Originally filed as separate complaints by four different plaintiffs, the new suit combines those cases and adds 11 more students as plaintiffs. Most of them no longer are enrolled there.

Attorneys allege that reckless and negligent conduct by school officials began in 2007 and continues to the present day.

"They've had a lot of problems," said David Kennedy, one of the plaintiffs' attorneys. "The entire environment was just out of control and mismanaged ... with no oversight from the Archdiocese (of Mobile)."

Mark Redditt and Grey Redditt, who represent the defendants, could not immediately be reached for comment. The defendants in the past have denied the allegations.

The suit seeks unspecified monetary damages.

Allegation: Gun brought to school

Among the more serious allegations in the new complaint is that a student brought a gun to school on Jan. 23. According to the complaint, one of the plaintiffs informed a teacher that another student showed her a gun – which was in the fourth-grader's book bag – but that the teacher instructed her not to tell her parents. A school counselor spoke to the class, telling the students not to tell their parents and that if anyone did something to them, they should ignore it, the suit alleges.

School officials did not report a firearm on school property to law enforcement authorities and made no internal record about the matter.

The suit alleges that the school violated archdiocesan policy by not expelling the student and reporting the incident to police. But Ginger Koppersmith, the assistant superintendent of education for the archdiocese, testified in a deposition that the policy was merely a recommendation.

Kennedy, who said the student with the gun showed it in a threatening manner, indicated that the archdiocese has dismissed the gun incident as a rumor.

"We expect testimony from multiple people otherwise," he said.

Allegation: Drunk teacher

The suit alleges that middle school teacher Jan Drury, one of the defendants, frequently was intoxicated in class. Drury testified in an April deposition that she began drinking early in the morning at home while getting ready for work and consumed a significant amount of alcohol throughout the day while on the job.

Cheryl Perez, an aide employed by St. Pius, testified in her deposition that she informed Principal Lauren Alvarez of Drury's use of alcohol at school.

Another witness, teacher and defendant Jayne Yarbrough, testified in a deposition that she informed the principal that Drury was suffering from some problem but made no mention of alcohol. Alvarez told lawyers in her deposition that a parent had informed her that Drury was intoxicated during school hours.

The school dismissed Drury after she fell over a student during a drunken incident, according to court records.

"We believe that the evidence clearly shows that the principal and other people at the school knew that she was intoxicated in school and other occasions and allowed her to continue teaching," Kennedy said.

Allegation: Abuse by staff

The initial lawsuits filed in 2013 alleged that the school failed to stop severe bullying of students at the hands of their classmates. The latest complaint goes a step further and accuses some of the teachers of acting inappropriately, themselves.

According to the complaint, teachers called two of the plaintiffs "thieves" without any evidence that they had taken anything. Fellow students made fun of those children for being in foster care prior to their adoption, the suit alleges.

Fellow students and teachers Sonia Nelson and Michelle Ward ostracized the two students, one of whom was between 10 and 13 during the times covered by the lawsuit, and the other who was between 8 and 11.

The suit also accuses Nelson and other teachers of publicly belittling a student between the ages of 11 and 13.

Nelson also made unfounded allegations against the grandfather of one of the plaintiffs, suggesting that the man engaged in inappropriate sexual conduct.

School employees failed to prevent students from suffering a variety of harms at the hand of fellow pupils, including pushing, shoving, kicking and tripping. They also suffered "repeated and pervasive verbal harassment," including name-calling and sexually explicit rumors, according to the suit.

The defendants also failed to stop students from hitting, kicking and throwing rocks at some of the plaintiffs, the suit alleges.

The complaint alleges a teacher left a student unsupervised in a dark, locked classroom for an extended period of time. Because of her physical limitations, she was unable to unlock and open the door and could not be found at the end of the day when her carpool pick-up time arrived.

The suit also alleges that a learning-disabled student was subject to sexual harassment and physical assault in "a sexual manner" by other students from 2010 to 2013. Students called her names, spread rumors about her. The school denied her the education resource services that it was contractually obligated to pay for.

Several male students fondled the girls' breasts and asked her to expose them, according to court records. The suit also alleges that she was the butt of sexual jokes.

Allegation: Cover-up

The lawsuit alleges that harassment and bullying were so pervasive that it was the "de facto custom policy" of the school to allow such behavior.

"In furtherance of this policy and in keeping with it, faculty routinely destroyed disciplinary records (or failed to make them), failed to discipline known bullies and/or harassers of other students, and even engaged in bullying of other students and faculty themselves," the lawsuit states.

The complaint points to testimony by the principal at her deposition that she threw away statements and discipline notices, and that she did not talk to students about incidents involving injuries. Alvarez also failed to write discipline notices or notices of suspension or expulsion.

Koppersmith, the assistant superintendent, testified that the archdiocese's policy, on advice of archdiocesan lawyers, was for student discipline records to be purged at the end of each school year.

Kennedy said it is unclear whether that policy took effect before or after he filed the first lawsuit.

Allegation: Accusation against priest concealed

The plaintiffs contend that the Rev. Johnny Savoie, the pastor of St. Pius X Catholic Church, refused to disclose information related to allegations against him involving a sexual relationship of a minor while he was serving as a priest in Baldwin County nearly a decade ago.

Savoie referenced the allegation to his congregation last year but, on advice of his lawyers, declined to answer questions about it when attorneys for the plaintiffs took his deposition. A judge has ordered Savoie to answer questions about the matter, and Kennedy said he has scheduled another deposition for May 29.

Plaintiffs' lawyers argue that it is relevant because Savoie concealed the allegation and was not removed from his position after it came to light. The student whom other pupils touched in a sexually inappropriate way was harmed as a result, the suit contends.

Attorneys for the defendants have contended that the allegation against Savoie is not relevant. Baldwin County District Attorney Hallie Dixon has said her office investigated that allegation but concluded that the man Savoie supposedly had the relationship with was old enough to consent.



Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.