By Melissa Steele
Nov 15, 2011
The Cape Henlopen School District, school board and two high school teachers have reached a settlement with a former student who sued them in federal court.
The trial was scheduled to begin Nov. 14 in U.S. District Court in Wilmington but both sides began working out an agreement just minutes after the jury was selected.
U.S. District Court Judge Michael Baylson announced the terms of the settlement were confidential before he closed the case.
Attorney Steve Norman, who has represented former Cape student Roger Dane Wooleyhan since the beginning of his court action, applauded Wooleyhan and his parents for pursuing the case.
“It took a lot of courage for Mr. Wooleyhan to stand up to the teachers and administrators who
caused his unlawful arrest, suspension, and prosecution. This case shows that no one is allowed to
bully students, even teachers,” Norman said. “If a teacher bullies a student through false
accusations, other teachers and the entire school administration should not blindly support the
teacher, but rather have a duty to investigate not only the student, but the accusing teacher.”
Norman likened the situation to what’s happening at Penn State in which there was credible
information to investigate and instead the school did nothing. Wooleyhan stood up for himself
through the lawsuit, but also for all students who don’t know how to stand up for themselves, he
Former Cape student Roger Dane Wooleyhan said he was happy with the terms of the settlement.
“I’m relieved the entire process is over,” he said following his brief court appearance.
Wooleyhan lives in Millsboro and works as a fisherman. With the court case behind him, he said
he plans to take classes certifying him to operate a tanker.
Wooleyhan’s attorney, Steve Norman, said the case has set important precedence for case law
involving due process and unlawful detention. Already, he said, the Wooleyhan case has been
cited in several published opinions involving unrelated court cases.
“Prior to this there was a dearth of due process and unlawful detention opinions,” Norman said.
Wooleyhan and his parents filed a lawsuit in 2010 against the district, school board and 10 district
employees after a lower court found Wooleyhan not guilty of an offensive-touching charge. The
charge had been filed against him in 2008 by Cape Henlopen High School teacher Amanda Jester.
Jester alleged Wooleyhan elbowed her in the chest as she tried to separate him and his girlfriend
in a high school hallway. Wooleyhan was arrested and suspended from school in what he called a
violation of his due process and civil rights. When he was found not guilty of offensive touching,
he filed charges against the district, school board and school employees including malicious
prosecution, unlawful detention, defamation and emotional distress.
U.S. District Court Judge Michael Baylson dismissed numerous charges against a dozen teachers
and administrators but ruled teachers Jester and Lisa White as well as the school district and school board must stand trial. Jester faced a federal charge of unlawful detention and state charges of malicious prosecution and defamation; White faces a defamation charge.
The school board and school district were facing a Monell claim – a case in which the victim
contends due process rights were violated. In this case, Wooleyhan said his due process rights
were violated because the district has an unwritten school policy regarding offensive touching. He
said he was never given an opportunity to give his side of the story before the school took punitive action against him.
James McMackin represented the school district and school board and spoke on behalf of Jester’s attorney, Mary Sherlock. “The matter was satisfactorily resolved for a confidential resolution that the defendants are happy with. The decision to enter into the settlement agreement underscores the wisdom of the administration of the Cape Henlopen School District,” McMackin said.
As part of the settlement, McMackin said the district will send Wooleyhan a written apology.