Today’s complaint marks third legal action against school district by NWLC for failure to protect students
(Washington, D.C.) Today, the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) and co-counsel DLA Piper filed a lawsuit against Pennridge School District and two school officials in Perkasie, Pennsylvania on behalf of “Jane Doe,” an 18-year-old recent high school graduate who was physically and verbally harassed by fellow students. The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, alleges that the defendants violated Title IX, the federal law that prohibits sex discrimination in education, the U.S. Constitution, and state laws when it repeatedly failed to respond to Jane’s reports of dating violence and protect her from further harassment. NWLC also represents two other former students—Modupe Williams and DarbiAnne Goodwin—in separate suits against Pennridge School District for its failure to address severe harassment.
Jane Doe was physically and verbally abused by her boyfriend, another Pennridge student, during her sophomore year. After Jane and her family told Pennridge High School officials about the abuse in order to seek protection, the perpetrator and his friends retaliated by viciously harassing Jane in the school hallways and sending threatening social media messages detailing their plans to hurt her.
Despite Jane and her family’s pleas for help throughout her sophomore and junior years, Pennridge School District failed to even investigate the ongoing harassment, let alone separate the harassers from Jane, provide appropriate accommodations to keep her in school, or discipline the perpetrators. Instead, in the spring of her junior year, the school pressured Jane to attend an “alternative school” meant for expelled students and those with behavioral challenges. There, Jane received only six hours of instruction a week and her academic work consisted of homework packets covering material she had already learned years earlier.
“Pennridge School District’s utter disregard for Jane’s education and safety is both illegal and deeply unethical,” said NWLC President and CEO Fatima Goss Graves. “Jane’s experience is disturbingly similar to those of the two other clients we represent in separate lawsuits against the same school district. Pennridge officials have consistently demonstrated an alarming pattern of pushing survivors of gender violence out of school rather than intervening to stop the abuse, as they are legally required to do. The school’s mistreatment of students like Jane must stop.”
“I turned to my school for help but they punished me instead,” said Jane. “Like many victims of dating violence, I was scared to reach out for help, but I knew I needed Pennridge to keep me safe and in school. But no matter what evidence I showed them, no matter how much I begged for help, Pennridge did nothing. Almost every day, my abuser and his friends harassed me. My grades dropped from As and Bs to Cs and Ds. I did not feel safe walking around my school. Rather than fix the problem, Pennridge sent me to an alternative school, where I was deprived of a real education. I’m speaking up so Pennridge never again treats a student like it treated me and other students.”
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.