Reprinted with permission from DelawareOnline.com
By SEAN O’SULLIVAN
The News Journal
When a teacher at Cape Henlopen High School physically separated a student from his girlfriend in October 2008, she claimed the teen “offensively” touched her.
The student was soon pulled out of class by a state police trooper, charged and suspended for three days. The teen’s parents were told the whole thing was caught on video and the evidence was conclusive.
The problem, according to court papers, is the video showed no such thing. At a Justice of the Peace Court trial several months later, the student was acquitted.
So Roger and Elizabeth Wooleyhan of Rehoboth Beach filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of son Roger against the district earlier this year charging that the teacher lied, the district denied their son due process and that its discipline policies are unconstitutional.
The civil action, which names the district, school officials and the Delaware State Police as defendants, seeks expungement of the son’s record, changes in the district’s policies and damages. This month, the lawsuit cleared an early legal test, as District Judge Michael M. Baylson tossed out three of 10 counts but left most of the lawsuit in place.
And in throwing out two counts, the judge invited the Wooleyhans’ attorney, Stephen Price Norman, to essentially try again and restate and refile those two parts of the lawsuit.
Cape Henlopen district officials did not return calls for comment, and the attorney representing the school was out of town and could not be reached.
An attorney representing teacher Amanda Jester declined to comment, as did the Wooleyhans’ attorney.
In its written response to the lawsuit, the district denies all the allegations.
According to court papers, Roger Wooleyhan, who was then 18 but has graduated and is now 20, was standing with his girlfriend in a hall — apparently saying goodbye before a class around 9:30 a.m.
Jester appeared and pushed the pair apart. Jester claimed Wooleyhan elbowed her in the breast while she was separating the pair. Why she separated them is not explained in court documents. Jester reported the incident to the school. About an hour later, the school’s resource officer, a state trooper, pulled Wooleyhan out of class and took him to Troop 7 to be booked on an offensive-touching charge.
According to the lawsuit, the trooper and other school officials told Wooleyhan’s parents that the incident was caught on video that clearly showed their son elbowing Jester, but the family was not allowed to view the video because of school policy.
The trooper allegedly said that, in keeping with school policy, he was required to support the teacher’s version of events without investigation.
Wooleyhan was not allowed to give his version of events, according to the lawsuit.
The parents eventually were allowed to see the tape, after threatening legal action. According to the suit, it did not show Wooleyhan making contact with the teacher.
School officials refused to drop the case and suggested the family have their son apologize to the teacher, according to the suit.
When the offensive-touching case went to trial in February 2009, Wooleyhan was acquitted. The family’s federal lawsuit against the district was filed a year later.