By Melissa Steele
Oct 4, 2011
A Cape Henlopen student’s case against the school district, school board and two teachers will go forward to a jury trial, a federal judge has ruled.
U.S. District Court Judge Michael Baylson on Sept. 12 denied the district’s and school board’s request to dismiss the case, setting in motion a trial scheduled for Monday Nov 14th in Wilmington.
Roger Wolleyhan and his parents filed a lawsuit in 2010 against the district, school board and 10 district employees after a lower court found him not guilty of an offensive charge filed against him in 2008 by Cape Henlopen High School teacher Amanda Jester.
Jester Alleged Woolyhan elbowed her in the chest when she tried to separate him and his girlfriend in a high school hallway. Following the alleged incident, Wooleyhan was arrested and suspended from school in what he claims was a violation of his die process and civil rights. He filed charges against the district, school board and school employees including malicious prosecution, unlawful detention, defamation and emotional distress. In his decision, Baylson encourages Wooleyhan and the defendants to seek resolution through mediation as opposed to a jury trial. Baylson wrote the arrest and prosecution of a high school student based soley on an incident with a teache, without any connection to guns, drugs or serious bodily injury is unusual.
“Any third party observer must wonder how and why a relatively simple incident which lasted a few seconds, in a highschool hallway has “morphed” into a complex federal litigation,” he wrote. Of the 10 employees originally named in the lawsuit, only Jester and teacher Lisa White must face jury trial along with with the distract and the school board, Baylson ruled. White’s attempt to avoid trial was denied in the same Sept. 12 memorandum in which Baylson ordered the district and school board to stand trial.
Due process rights denied
Wooleyham says the district and school board deprived him of his due process rights, guarenteed by the Constitution, a type of case known as a Monell claim.
Wooleyham contends his due process rights were violated because the district has an unwritted school policy regarding offensive touching that gave him no opportunity to give his side of the story before the school took punitive action against him.
In making his decision, Baylson said he used testimony from former Cape Henlopen Principal Ed Waples – a witness for the district and school board. Waples testified “to the existence of an unwritten policy that any student accused of an offensive touching, regardless of whether he or she is arrested or denies the charges, is automatically issued an out-of-school-suspension pending an investigation.”
According to court documents, Waples also said a lot of students other than Wooleyhan have been suspended.
In allowing the case to proceed to trial, Baylson cited the lack of a written policy and said the unwritten policy “offers nothing more than a sham process.”
“The fact that a lot of students have been suspended since at lease 2002 suggest a jury could also reasonally infer the District and board acted with deliberate indifference to the obvious consequence of depriving their students of their constitutional process,” he wrote.
Cape Henlopen Superintendnt Kevin Carson said the student policy has been updated to include offensive touching incidents. The policy clearly states what will happen if a student is involved in an offensive touching situation, he said. Carson declined futher comment on the case.
Baylson granted partial summary judgement for five charges against Jester in a May 17 memorandum, leaving her to stand trial in federal court on charges of unlawful detention and state charges of malicious prosecution and defamation. If found guilty at trial, both Jester and White could face punitive damages.
Attorneys for Jester, White and the school district and board did not respont to requests for comment, not did Wooleyhan’s attorney.
Charges against former Superintendent George Stone, former high school Principal John Yore, former Assistant Principal Dianne Mrazcek, School Resource Officer and State Trooper William Matt, Student Services Coordinator Robert Maull and teacher John Walsh have been dismissed, abandoned or granted summary judgement.