A federal judge yesterday dismissed a lawsuit filed by parents of two students at the Mission Hill K-8 School in Jamaica Plain against the city, saying they provided no proof that school and city officials somehow let the kids be attacked by a third student and then failed to adequately respond to the attacks.
But US District Court Judge Allison Burroughs gave the two sets of parents a month to file a revised complaint to show how school and city officials were negligent in the incidents in the 2014-2015 school year, when all three of the children were 4 and the student in question allegedly attacked one of their kids, and in the 2015-2016 school year, when he allegedly attacked the other.
In their complaint, originally filed in Suffolk Superior Court, the parents, identified only by pseudonyms, do not detail what happened, except to say that in the first instance, the student "sexually assaulted" one of the children and in the second, both sexually and physically attacked the other child. They allege officials at the school and at BPS failed to rectify the situation, in violation of various state and federal laws, including the Title IX anti-discrimination law:
The defendants' actions and failures to act caused serious physical and emotional injury to the plaintiffs.
But in a ruling issued yesterday, Burroughs agreed with school and city officials that that's just too vague to warrant finding for them:
Based on the complaint, the Court is not able to determine whether the harassment was severe or pervasive, whether B.G. and A.R. were deprived of educational opportunities or benefits, whether the school was deliberately indifferent, and whether the school’s response was clearly unreasonable in light of the circumstances. ... [T]he complaint does not explain when Defendants were informed of the assaults, what information they were provided, or what action or inaction they took in response to this information. Thus, the Court is unable to assess whether, given the facts and circumstances of this particular case, Defendants acted with deliberate indifference such that they could be liable for damages.
She gave them until Aug. 6 to file an amended complaint.
In addition to arguing the complaint was vague enough to warrant dismissal, a city attorney argued that, whatever did happen, the school acted appropriately:
The Plaintiffs' have failed to meet their burden that the Defendant was deliberately indifferent towards the alleged assault of either Plaintiff by another student. Deliberate indifference is a high standard, which requires more than mere vague allegations coupled with buzz words. More specifically, the school took several steps to address A.D [the attacking student] issues - assigned staff to monitor him, moved A.D. to a different class, tried to engage parent/guardian, etc. "If the institution takes timely and reasonable measures to end the harassment, it is not liable under Title IX for prior harassment" Doe v. D'Agostino, 367 F. Supp. 2d 157 (D. Mass 2005); quoting Willis v. Brown University, 184 F.3d 20, 26 (1st Cir. 1999). The age of the children involved is critical in the analysis of whether the measures taken by the school were adequate and sufficient. The unrefuted evidence shows that as soon as school administration had concerns about A.D.'s behavior, they immediately took steps to address it. It is important to highlight, that the Defendant is responsible for the education of all the parties involved in this lawsuit, not just the Plaintiffs. Given the nature and age of the parties, this was an extremely delicate situation, which the Defendant addressed as best it could. Although the parents may not have agreed with how the Defendant handled the situation that does not mean it rises to the level of deliberate indifference. The Defendant took developmentally appropriate, swift action in trying to ensure that both the Plaintiffs' and the alleged perpetrators educational and emotional needs were met.