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Wednesday, July 17, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

School Dodges Suit Over Bullying of Teenage Girl

(CN) - A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit claiming that a Delaware school district is liable for allegedly letting a student sexually, physically and verbally abuse his girlfriend.

According to the underlying complaint, which conceals the underage teenagers' names, P.K. entered her freshman year at Caesar Rodney High School in 2009 as an "exemplary student."

She had been dating G.R. for about six months, and her grades allegedly began to suffer in September.

P.K.'s mom, Judy Hassinger, immediately told teachers and guidance counselor that the child's academic decline might be the result of an emotionally abusive relationship with G.R., according to the complaint.

At that point, however, "no specific incidents of harassment or abuse were known to have occurred on or off school grounds and Hassinger did not alert the defendants of any such incidents."

One Caesar Rodney teacher did contact the police because she was worried that G.R. was in fact "mistreating" P.K.

When Hassinger learned that G.R. had punched her daughter in the head in January 2010, she contacted the school to warn them about the abuse, according to the complaint.

The school says it directed Hassinger to its resource officer, a corporal with the Delaware State Police. Since the students were apparently sharing a locker, the trooper's first step was reassign P.K. to a new locker.

The abuse escalated in February 2010, when G.R.'s father left P.K. a "frightening message" and the boy sent her "numerous harassing text messages," according to the complaint.

Dover police charged the father and son with criminal harassment.

In April, G.R. repeatedly screamed obscenities at P.K. and her family as they watched a little league game, according to the complaint. G.R. was arrested and suspended later that month for allegedly pushing the girl against a locker and slapping her.

He pleaded guilty to these charges in May, the same month that he allegedly taunted P.K. in the hallways with more obscene remarks and tried to push her down a staircase.

Afraid to walk the hallways by herself, P.K. wanted to finish the rest of the school year from home. But the school principal said "did not have time to fix every problem that comes up between boyfriends and girlfriends," according to the complaint. That administrator allegedly admitted later that she "knew nothing about the abuse," "did not know that G.R., one of her students, had had been arrested in school," and "didn't know the seriousness of the situation."

The principal eventually let P.K. complete the rest of the school year from home without any penalties or loss of school credit.

Fielding both parties' motions for summary judgment, Chief U.S. District Judge Gregory Sleet said the school adequately responded to each instance of abuse.

"Here, the defendants employed nearly all of these methods-arresting and suspending G.R., talking to G.R. about his behavior through the issuing of a strong warning, and removing G.R. from the high school's baseball team as a result of his suspension," Sleet wrote. Additionally, the defendants changed P.K.'s locker, permitted her to leave class five minutes early to avoid G.R. in the hallways, and ultimately granting her permission to complete the school year from home without academic penalty. Although the defendants did not, as Hassinger requested, expel G.R. from the High School, such action was not necessary for the defendants' actions to meet the "not clearly unreasonable" standard required for Title IX compliance."

P.K. and her mother were represented by Charles Snyderman of the Snyderman Law Firm in Wilmington, Del.

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