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Teacher of the Year – Not

WACO, Texas (CN) - A middle school gym teacher punished a seventh-grade girl who didn't want to try out for track by making her carry a 280-lb. classmate on her back across a football field, herniating two discs that cause her continuing pain, the girl and her mom say in Federal Court.

The mother, H.Y., sued Gatesville Independent School District and Jade Dickens on behalf of her daughter, Jane Doe. Even after Jane herniated her discs, the school district continued to blow off her complaints, and retaliated against her and her mom, calling them "complainers," according to the complaint.

Gatesville, pop. 15,140, is about 35 miles west of Waco.

Jane was a seventh grader in April 2010, when girls in gym class were invited to try out for track.

"Jane Doe did not want to try out for track, in part because the practice sessions for track conflicted with religious activities in which Jane Doe was more interested," her mom says in the complaint.

It continues: Jade Dickens, a coach for female athletics held a meeting after the try out announcement, and criticized girls who did not want to try out for track. She insisted that their failure to try out for track indicated a lack of 'commitment' or plain laziness. The girls who chose not to try out were segregated by the coach and were instructed to participate in rigorous exercise that was reasonably interpreted as a punishment for failing to try out, for the perceived lack of commitment, or for laziness.

"Jane Doe revealed during this period of time that she wanted to drop out of athletics so that she could participate in a youth praise band at church. Coach Dickens was unhappy with Jane Doe's request and required Jane Doe to participate in the rigorous athletic drilling for several days.

"These rigorous drills were not normal drills for athletes. Instead, Coach Dickens referred to these as 'military' drills or 'marine' drills, suggesting that the girls would be benefitted by doing exercises that members of the armed forces do."

Jane and her mom add: "Coach Dickens, by her words and tone evidenced disdain and disrespect for Jane Doe and the taller and bigger girls because of their physique.

"On April 20, 2010, Jane Doe and the other girls who did not try out for track were required to participate in a drill apparently designed by Coach Dickens. Jane Doe, who weighed 180 pounds, was required (by Coach Dickens) to carry another female - M.S. - who weighed 280 pounds - on her back the length of the football field.

"M.S. begged Coach Dickens not to require this, apparently realizing the weight differential would be dangerous and perhaps cause injury. Coach Dickens insisted that it was fine.

"Jane Doe did not make the entire trip down the field, stopping from exhaustion, and perhaps injury, at about 75 yards downfield.

"Coach Dickens was screaming at Jane Doe continuously during the drill urging her to go faster.

"After the failure to complete the drill in a manner satisfactory to Coach Dickens, Jane Doe was required to get on her hands and knees while M.S. mounted her shoulders. Coach Dickens commanded Jane Doe to stand and lift M.S. Jane Doe attempted to comply, but during the 'exercise' heard a pop in her back. ...

"The pop in Jane Doe's back was the beginning or the completion of a serious injury. It resulted in two herniated disks in Jane Doe's back.

"H.Y. attempted to complain about the treatment of Jane Doe, and about the injury. She met with the principal of the school and with the coach within 3 days of the injury because Jane Doe was constantly in physical pain. Even though the extent of the injury and the prognosis for treatment was not known, it was clear that the source and cause of the injury was Coach Dickens training exercises.

"The School District did nothing in response to the initial complaint. They neither investigated it, nor acted upon it, nor provided any forms on which a more formal complaint was to be made.

"H.Y. then complained to the Texas Education Commission. The Commission staff instructed H.Y. to make her complaint at the local school level. By the time H.Y. had done so, the School District claimed that the time had expired to make a complaint - that there was only a 14-day period to file formal papers.

"After rejection of the formal complaint, H.Y. has persisted in her efforts to have the complaint heard, but the School District has refused to investigate, address or respond in any substantive way to the complaint about the injury.

"The effects of the injury to Jane Doe's back included constant pain, inability to sit or stand for extended periods, and inability to concentrate on schoolwork.

"Jane Doe had always been a high-achieving student, and her education suffered greatly from the injury and its effects on her."

But that's not all, Jane and her mom say. After Jane was injured, "Instead of accommodating Jane Doe, there have been numerous incidents of retaliation for her complaint, dismissal of a prolapsed disk as inconsequential, and refusal to provide or discuss reasonable accommodation.

"The School District had labeled Jane Doe and her family as 'complainers,' 'difficult' and less flattering terms for seeking some means to continue Jane Doe's education.

"Jane Doe's 'file' at the School District has been altered to remove important parental instructions about participation in athletic activities, including, but not limited to the parent's warning and limitations on lifting weights that was given to the School District prior to the injury.

"In short, the School District has covered up the facts surrounding the injury; it has refused to investigate or appropriately respond to the report of a serious injury; it has retaliated against an injured child, it has branded her family as a problem for the School District, and it has refused to alter its educational services in any meaningful way to accommodate the injury that Coach Dickens caused."

Jane and her mom seek punitive damages for civil rights violations, disability violations, and pain and suffering.

They are represented by Greg White.

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