Pennsylvania Record

Friday, September 20, 2019

Bullying lawsuit continues against Quaker school; Black girl says she was tormented over race, ADHD

Federal Court

By Charmaine Little | Jul 9, 2019


Friends' Central School

PHILADELPHIA – The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania partially granted Friends' Central School Corp.’s motion to dismiss an Americans with Disabilities Act lawsuit filed by the parents of a student.

U.S. District Judge John R. Padova ruled on the case on June 18. Friends' Central is a Quaker school in Wynnewood, a community in Lower Merion.

The plaintiffs have not disclosed their real names. Listed as Jack and Nancy Doe, they sued the school after their daughter Delia Doe’s alleged experiences. She was 11 at the time of the lawsuit and had gone to Friends' Central School from kindergarten through fifth grade. Delia was one of three African-American students in her fifth-grade class that consisted of roughly 30 kids in the 2017-2018 school year. 

Delia started displaying signs of ADHD in the third grade after she had trouble reading and difficulty with math. As a result of her condition, the lawsuit said Delia has suffered bullying and racial hostility since she was in the second grade. 

The plaintiffs ultimately sued with claims that Delia was treated differently than other students. They claimed violation of Title III of the ADA (Counts I and II) , violation of 41 U.S.C. (Counts III and IV), breach of contract (Count V), breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing (Count VI), and breach of fiduciary duty (Count VII).

The defendants filed a motion to dismiss Counts I and II for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction and dismiss all of the counts for failure to state a claim.

The court granted the motion to dismiss the ADA charges for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction. It said while the plaintiffs say they have proper standing because Delia suffers injuries due to the defendants’ actions toward her, the injuries are only emotional. 

“Allegations of continuing emotional consequences arising from violations of Title III of the ADA are not sufficient to satisfy the future injury requirement for standing to pursue injunctive relief,” Padova wrote.

As for the rest of the claims, the court added, that the defendants did put restrictions on Delia as a result of racial-bias demands that fifth-grade parents made, putting pressure on the school. 

“Even if these allegations were not sufficient to plausibly allege intentional discrimination on the part of defendants, the complaint need not contain specific allegations of discriminatory intent in order to state a claim of discrimination of violation of section 1981,” Padova wrote. Plus, the allegations pointed out by the plaintiffs, that the defendants went beyond necessary measures to discipline Delia, allegedly sparked anxiety and stopped her from entering the sixth grade.

“We conclude that these allegations satisfy the requirement that the complaint allege that Delia ‘suffered an adverse action at the hands of the defendants in [her] pursuit of [her] education,” said the court, noting students not in the same protected class as Delia didn’t suffer the same level of discipline.

The court also denied the motion to dismiss for the breach of contract claim, pointing out the complaint sufficiently says that FCS didn’t properly offer Delia an individualized education program, discriminating against her amid her disability and race. It reiterated this point when it denied the motion to dismiss the breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing. It also denied the motion to dismiss the breach of fiduciary duty.

Some of the incidents include a student hitting Delia in the eye with their elbow; hitting her in between the legs with a newspaper football, causing Delia to go to the hospital; throwing her off the monkey bars; and trying to flush her shoes down the toilet. 

Delia was later instructed to take a break from school after she threatened to gouge out the eyes of students if they didn’t let her sit next to her friend “Toby.” When Delia was allowed to return to school, the reaction from parents and even a teacher referencing Delia’s “access to guns or other weapons” seemed to make things worse.

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