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Press Release

NWLC Joins Lawsuit against Pennsylvania High School for Failing to Address Harassment against a Black Female Student

Posted on January 23, 2017

Pennridge High School in Perkasie, Pa. violated the law by not responding to race- and sex-based harassment that drove only Black 9th grader out of school.

(Washington, D.C.) The National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) joined a lawsuit filed by a Black student against Pennridge High School in Perkasie, PA that alleges violations of  Title IX and Title VI—federal laws that prohibit sex and race discrimination in education—for failing to address harassment of her when she was the only Black 9th grade student.

The opposition to the school’s motion to dismiss—filed last Friday by NWLC and Philadelphia attorney Olugbenga O. Abiona in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania—documents the discrimination experienced in 2012 by Modupe Williams, then a 14-year-old freshman at Pennridge High School. Ms. Williams’s classmates called her epithets like “bitch” and “n****r,” sexually propositioned her, and hurled vile, sexually explicit insults rooted in racist stereotypes.

Ms. Williams and her mother repeatedly turned to Pennridge principals for help stemming the abuse, but the school did nothing. Rather than take steps to stop the harassment, a principal told her she should leave Pennridge if she could not handle it. Eventually, after months of harassment, Ms. Williams was forced to transfer to a new school.

“This school completely ignored its legal and moral responsibility to help one of its students when she faced harassment because of her race and sex,” said NWLC Director of Education Neena Chaudhry. “Instead of protecting her, they drove her out. The school’s failure sends a chilling message to students that even if they speak up about their harassment they may not be protected. And it tells would-be harassers that they can freely harass without paying a price.”

“The harassment and bullying that I faced made me dread going to school,” said Ms. Williams, now 19. “I know I’m not alone. I hope by going to court and telling my story that schools will actually create safe and comfortable learning environments, instead of failing to protect their students.”

The lawsuit also details the retaliation Williams experienced after reporting her harassment, including her school’s refusal to provide her new school with a transcript, which further disrupted and delayed Williams’s education.

 

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NWLC Title IX experts are available for comment.  Please contact Maria Patrick at mpatrick@nwlc.org or 202-319-3021.

 The National Women’s Law Center is a non-profit organization that has been working since 1972 to advance and protect women’s equality and opportunity.  The Center focuses on major policy areas of importance to women and their families including economic security, education, employment and health, with special attention given to the concerns of low-income women.  For more information on the Center, visit: www.nwlc.org.