Parents sue Phila. School Dist., officials over retaliatory attack on son by fellow classmate

By Jon Campisi | Oct 4, 2013

The School District of Philadelphia and various officials named in a lawsuit

brought by the parents of a middle-schooler who claims he was beaten up by fellow classmates in retaliation for speaking out about a weapons incident have moved to have the case play out in federal court.

Florence and Joseph Boerner filed suit on Sept. 9 at Philadelphia’s Common Pleas Court on behalf of their young son, who was allegedly attacked at Austin Meehan Middle School in the fall of 2011 after being accused of ratting out two classmates who had brandished a weapon.

The plaintiff’s son, who was a seventh-grader at the time, told his father on Sept. 13 that he had witnessed two students brandish a weapon in front of him earlier that day at the playground near the plaintiffs’ home.

The incident was reported to city police and led to the arrest of the two students, the record shows.

The mother called school officials the following day to inform them of the incident and voice her concern that there would be “physical retribution” against her son for his naming the students involved in the incident.

The two students also attended Austin Meehan.

The son ended up writing a statement of what had occurred and giving it to the school’s vice principal, Gregory Hailey, who is named as a codefendant in the lawsuit.

A school police officer, identified as Nicole Waibel, another defendant in the case, aided the middle-schooler in writing up the incident report.

Later that day, one student threatened the plaintiffs’ son with physical harm in retaliation for the son’s involvement in the situation, the lawsuit says.

At the instruction of Waibel, the plaintiffs’ son told Hailey and another school official identified as Andrew Skopp about the threats, but no action was reportedly taken.

Skopp is also named as a defendant in the litigation.

The student who made the threats ultimately attacked the plaintiffs’ son in the school’s lunchroom on Sept. 15, 2011, the complaint states, an incident that ended with the son sustaining a fractured nose, facial lacerations, bruising, contusions, eye injuries, emotional trauma and mental anguish.

The parents claim they were forced to spend money on rehabilitation and medical care for their son.

The lawsuit accuses the various defendants of not doing enough to stave off the attack on the middle-schooler.

“Defendants … had actual knowledge of the violent propensity of [the attacking student], and threats of violence made by [the attacker] against Minor-Plaintiff but despite such knowledge failed to protect Minor-Plaintiff from physical harm and assault in violation of Minor-Plaintiff’s state and federal constitutional rights …,” the complaint reads.

The attacking student is identified by name in the complaint, however, because he is a minor, and is not listed as a defendant in the case, the Pennsylvania Record is withholding his name.

Austin Meehan’s principal, Mary Jackson, is listed as an additional defendant in the suit.

The plaintiffs seek more than $50,000 in damages.

They are being represented by Philadelphia attorneys Howard J. Levin and Beth A. Adamski.

On Oct. 2, attorney Diane Bernoff Sher, who works in the school district’s Office of General Counsel, filed a petition with the U.S. District Court in Philadelphia contending that the matter belongs in the federal venue, not state court, because the plaintiffs allege federal civil rights violations.


The state case ID number is 130900951 and the federal case number is 2:13-cv-05781-JCJ. 

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