Parents Sue After Kindergarteners' Traced, Cut-Out Paper Hands Art Fetches $50K

The couple is suing the school for more than $400,000 plus damages.

July 1, 2013, 4:29 PM
PHOTO: Kindergartners' artwork fetched $50,000 in alleged auction.
Kindergartners' artwork that allegedly drew a $50,000 bid at auction.
Obtained by ABC News

July 2, 2013— -- A well-heeled New York City couple is suing their 5-year-old son's private school, alleging its employees rigged a silent auction against them and forced them to bid $50,000 for amateur artwork created by their son's kindergarten class.

New York City residents Michelle Heinemann and Jon Heinemann, an investment banker, filed a complaint in the Manhattan Supreme Court Friday against the Cathedral School of St. John the Divine, where their son, Hudson, had been enrolled.

The artwork for sale was covered with traced and cut out paper hands of the class with their responses to the question "How do you feel about art?" written down on each of the colored pieces of paper, a spokeswoman for the family told

It was not clear whether or not money ultimately changed hands over the artwork, and the couple and the school would not answer specific questions on the case.

Nevertheless, the couple sued for more than $400,000 plus damages, accusing the school of "allowing a scheme that sought to extract $50,000 from [the Heinemanns] for goods that were not worth more than $3,000," according to the suit.

The suit alleged the family also had earlier complaints about their son's K-8 school, which charges $39,000 a year in tuition fees, and met with administrators in February over alleged discrimination against their son.

The Heinemanns said Hudson "was consistently left out of school exhibits and films and was made to go last at nearly everything," according to the suit.

"On occasion, [the Heinemanns'] 5-year-old son was relegated to the role of 'door holder' and ordered to hold the door for all of the other students," the suit read.

School administrators, according to the suit, assured the Heinemanns that their concerns about their son's education would be addressed, and the couple agreed to keep their son enrolled in the school. Furthermore, both Jon and Michelle Heinemann agreed to participate in the school's silent auction to raise money on March 1.

Not only did the couple purchase and donate $6,000-worth of designer clothes for the school's auction, but Michelle Heinemann "donated significant amounts of time to work with the children at the school on an art project to be included in the auction," the complaint said.

While the couple could not attend the auction, the Heinemanns provided bidding instructions to the school based on the school's guidance that similar artwork usually sold between $500 and $1,200 at the auction, according to the complaint.

But on the night of the auction, the Heinemanns alleged, two high-ranking employees at the Cathedral School rigged an automated auction system to drive the selling price up to $50,000 for the cut-out hand artwork.

The Heinemanns claimed in their lawsuit that a teacher was fired over the auction, but said the damage to both their son and themselves had already been done.

The couple took their son out of school following the auction, and added that they were forced to relocate so their son could finish the year at another school, which cost them "at least $165,900," according to the lawsuit.

The costs, according to the suit, included a $20,000 tuition bill to enroll Hudson in a new school, a $60,000 salary for a family driver the family no longer needed after re-enrolling their son, $1,200 a week necessary to continue to employ a family housekeeper, and $18,500 in forfeited fees associated with their other children's classes.

The family also alleged in the suit that the school cost them "at least $250,000" for "fraudulent misinterpretation."

The family and the school district would not answer specific questions about the lawsuit, but offered prepared statements on the case to

"The Heinemann family is deeply disheartened by The Cathedral School of St. John the Divine's actions and request privacy while they try to resolve this issue and protect their children," the family spokesman, R. Couri Hay, said in a statement to

Randy Friedberg, the family's attorney, did not respond to ABC News' requests for comment.

The Cathedral School called the family's suit "sad, false, and without merit," a school spokesman said.

"The Cathedral School has a more than 100-year reputation of excellence in education and service to its students and demonstrates a profound respect for the dignity and equality of every child," the spokesman said in a statement.