Teen plans to sue after school's refusal to publish George Floyd poem

Teen says she’s going to sue her ‘predominantly white’ Long Island school district for $2m for refusing to publish her sonnet about George Floyd in their literary magazine

  • On Tuesday, the family of Ruby Ray, a 10th grader at Vandermeulen High School in Port Jefferson, filed a notice of claim, which typically precedes a lawsuit 
  • Ruby says she is being discriminated against ‘on the basis of race and color, because Respondents regarded the Claimant as a writer and student who identified with and promoted the cause of African-Americans’ 
  • The notice targets the principal of her school, as well as the faculty adviser for the literary magazine and the school district at-large
  • Ruby’s poem is titled ‘Derek Chauvin’s Ode to George Floyd: A Dark Sonnet,’ named in part for the police officer charged in Floyd’s death 
  • Ruby found out on Monday that her poem had been rejected from the school’s literary magazine, according to the notice of claim
  • Her family alleges that the school said the poem was ‘dangerous’ in rejecting it
  • The notice of claim came on the one-year anniversary of Floyd’s death
  • NYSED disclosed that white students made up 81 percent of Vandermeulen High School during the 2019-20 school year

The family of a teenager on Long Island says they’re suing her school for $2 million after administrators wouldn’t publish her poem about George Floyd’s death in the school magazine, saying it 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 Suffolk County Supreme Court, an action that typically comes ahead of a lawsuit.  

Ruby had penned a poem called ‘Derek Chauvin’s Ode to George Floyd: A Dark Sonnet.’ Her parents say Ruby, who is white, is being discriminated against by the mostly white school because her poem ‘promoted the cause of African-Americans.’ 

The notice of claim, which alleges a violation of Ruby’s First Amendment rights, came on the one-year anniversary of Floyd’s death, although the Ray family chalks that up to being a coincidence.

‘I thought this was a free country and you have the right to express yourself in any way you choose,’ Ruby told the New York Post.

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Ruby Ray, 16, holds up her sonnet in front of Vandermeulen High School in Port Jefferson

Ruby Ray’s sonnet she wrote that was forbidden by her high school’s literary magazine

The notice alleges that administrators at the school banned Ruby’s sonnet ‘in order to please, protect, promote, placate and defend white racism in Respondents’ school and community, and white racism in general.’

The claim asserts 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 at-large.   

The claim mentions that the community and the school district are made up by a large majority of white people: The New York State Education Department says white students made up 81 percent of Vandermeulen High School in the 2019-20 school year.

Meanwhile, black students made up less than 1 percent of the student body last year, according to the Education Department. 

The school magazine’s faculty adviser, English teacher Matthew Sefick, told Ruby in an email, according to the Post: ‘This is an emotionally charged piece no matter how you look at it, and emotions run deep in an audience. … There is no back and forth discussion the way that we are having, and that can be dangerous.’

Principal Eric Haruthunian said the school wouldn’t publish the poem, according to an email on Monday seen by the Post. District Superintendent Jessica Schmettan wouldn’t comment.   

In New York, at least 30 days must pass between a notice of claim and the filing of a lawsuit, giving defendants time to investigate and intervene. 

John Ray, Ruby’s father and a lawyer, accused the school of being racist in comments to the New York Post.

‘It’s just racist — that’s the only thing driving it,’ John said. ‘It’s a powerful poem. It says what has to be said.’

Ruby’s poem is titled ‘Derek Chauvin’s Ode to George Floyd: A Dark Sonnet,’ named in part for the police officer convicted of murder in Floyd’s death.

Ruby Ray stands alongside her father, and attorney, John Ray, in front of Vandermeulen High School, in Port Jefferson, New York, where Ruby is a student

‘It’s just racist — that’s the only thing driving it,’ John said. ‘It’s a powerful poem. It says what has to be said’

The poem reads: 

‘From momma’s hands, you had not any chance. / The street, the ‘hood made you so young ashamed / To stand tall, to control your circumstance. / ‘Black man, it’s you we’ll crack,’ white men proclaimed; / ‘Stay down,’ they say, your fate is in our hands. / Obey, ok, obey me, I’m the cop / Who kneels upon your naked soul, who stands / On top your darkened head until you stop / Your sorry cry for mamma; take no breath. / I bring justice here, pressed upon your neck. / If I decide, you now face certain death, / A fate deserved, ‘cuz you passed a bad check. / You can’t breath? Then cease your black man drama, / I will make you weep for ‘Mamma! Mamma!’  

The poem includes multiple allusions to Floyd’s murder, including Chauvin pressing his knee upon Floyd’s neck and Floyd’s cries for his mother as he lay dying. 

Her family alleges that the school said the poem was ‘dangerous’ in rejecting it from the magazine. 

Vandermeulen High School in Port Jefferson, Long Island, where Ruby is a student

Data from the 2019-20 school year shows the high school is over 80 percent white

School officials allegedly said, ‘I agree that your sonnet is well-written. I hope you understand how touchy of a subject this can be … [it] can be dangerous … not only is the student body reading the work but the faculty and staff as well … I do not believe this piece is appropriate.’

The notice alleges that school officials believe the ‘white community would be offended and would act oppositionally to the sonnet which portrayed Derek Chauvin as a white racist.’

The district declined to comment to DailyMail.com about the allegations, saying that it does not comment on pending litigation. 

Attempts by DailyMail.com to reach the school principal have not been answered.

The notice alleges that the school ‘refused to allow the sonnet to be published for the reason that it would create adverse emotional reactions and strife in the community, amongst students and faculty.’ 

The notice of claim was filed on the one-year anniversary of George Floyd’s death

Derek Chauvin, who is depicted in Ruby’s poem, has been convicted of murder in Floyd’s death

Floyd, 46, was killed on May 25, 2020 after Chauvin kneeled on the man’s neck for over nine minutes.

Last month, he was convicted of murder and manslaughter and is awaiting sentencing in the case.

Tuesday marked the one-year anniversary of Floyd’s death, which kicked off protests around the country and world.

More protests and rallies took place on Tuesday to commemorate Floyd, which have included a moment of silence for Floyd in Minneapolis, as well as the president meeting with Floyd’s family. 

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