- The mother of an autistic former Erie High student sued the Erie School District in May 2020, alleging ADA violations in an incident in March 2020
- The district failed to turn down the case because they argue over whether compensation for emotional harm could be reimbursed under the law
- The $ 85,000 comparison includes a deductible of $ 50,000; insured remainder, says Ward
On March 5, 2020, a 17-year-old Erie High School student with autism left the school building after a confrontation with school administrators and school district police officers.
The student’s mother sued in federal court in May 2020 that her son was forced to leave school without coming home after the “meltdown” that morning.
She said the school district’s actions had harmed him emotionally and violated his rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act as well as the Rehabilitation Act 1973, which also prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities.
The school district countered that no such violations had occurred. The district said the student – identified only as PW on court records – voluntarily dropped out of school according to a plan his mother and the Erie High headmaster had developed to deal with PW’s disruptive behavior.
The duel accounts were ended with a settlement in the US District Court in Erie.
The Erie School District paid $ 85,000 to the mother and PW
The Erie School Board unanimously approved the settlement at its June 16 meeting. The Erie Times-New later obtained a copy of the settlement agreement by filing a motion under the Pennsylvania Right-to-Know Law.
The school district’s deductible in this case was $ 50,000, the district said. The district’s insurer paid the remainder of the money that made up the settlement, it said.
According to the deal, the two sides reached an agreement “without acknowledgment of liability or fault of either party”.
John Mizner, PW and his mother’s attorney, declined to comment on the settlement, citing an agreement that the parties would not discuss the deal. The Erie Times-News does not identify the mother – named in the lawsuit – to protect her son’s identity.
Erie Schools Superintendent Brian Polito asked if school officials were disciplined for the incident, saying the district is still investigating what happened at Erie High, which has more than 2,100 students enrolled, according to the State about 26% attend special schools dates.
With the case resolved, “we are conducting our own investigation and will take appropriate action as a result,” said Polito.
The district and PW’s mother reached the settlement after U.S. District Judge Susan Paradise Baxter denied the school district’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit in February. Baxter rejected the school district’s argument that the lawsuit should not proceed because the ADA and Rehabilitation Act do not allow reimbursement of damages to compensate for emotional harm.
Baxter ruled in favor of PW, finding that the law allows for compensation for emotional harm in the circumstances alleged in the lawsuit. Following their decision, the school district and Mizner settled the case through mediation on May 25, which, according to court records, led to a settlement.
Confrontation at school
PW’s departure from Erie High, 3325 Cherry St., March 5, 2020 was preceded by a disruption. In the lawsuit, Mizner alleged that PW met with a behavioral specialist in the moments prior to the incident, “after PW received another student.”
The lawsuit alleged that PW was upset at the meeting because he “felt he was falsely accused” and had no chance to “tell his side of the story”. As a result, according to the lawsuit, PW became frustrated and began to curse as it began to “melt down”. The lawsuit alleges that PW is required to perform calming activities after entering “meltdown” mode.
Citing time-stamped surveillance video, Mizner alleged in the lawsuit that PW began walking to the headmaster’s office, Don Orlando, when two other administrators and the two district police officers approached him. The lawsuit alleged that one of the administrators knocked a pen out of PW’s right hand, even though PW “did not make any violent, sudden, or threatening movement.”
PW went to the lobby of Erie High, where there were three police officers; Orlando; an assistant principal, Maurice Troop; and another administrator stood around him, according to the lawsuit, which contains stills of the video footage. PW “took out his cell phone to call his mother after being advised to leave school and go home,” the lawsuit said. It claimed its mother was working and didn’t see the news until about two hours later.
At 9:44 am, PW was “gently but firmly” pushed out the front door of Erie High and locked out of the school, according to the lawsuit. It claimed PW was unable to drive home 4.5 miles away, but the suit did not explain how it eventually got home.
The lawsuit alleged Orlando left a message on PW’s mother’s cell phone minutes after leaving the building.
School district response
In its response, the school district denied that “PW did not make any violent or threatening movements” during the dispute with the administration and the district police. The district also claimed that no one ordered PW to go home and that Orlando followed PW’s mother’s instructions on how to deal with the situation that day.
At a meeting on January 31, 2020, according to the district’s response, PW’s mother told the team working with her son “that PW should be allowed to drop out of school if a situation arises that leads to a criminal complaint against PW could lead. “
Orlando should call PW’s mother under such circumstances, the response said that PW’s mother, the plaintiff in the case, told Orlando that her son had contact numbers on his phone “and knew how to get someone to pick him up, when.” he goes”. School.”
The response stated, “PW left school voluntarily and in accordance with the plaintiff’s verbal instructions to the district.”
According to the response, Orlando and Troop, the assistant principal who interacted with PW on the day of the incident, met with PW’s mom four days later, on March 9, 2020, to review what happened. At the end of that meeting, PW’s mother, in response, thanked Mr. Orlando and Mr. Troop for helping PW avoid criminal charges on March 5, 2020.
In PW’s mother’s lawsuit, her attorney Mizner alleged that she was “not informed by anyone in the Erie School District that PW misbehaved or that he was or is being disciplined in any way” on March 5th.
The lawsuit alleged PW had suffered “mental and emotional damage” and was afraid to return to Erie High and was determined not to return.
“PW,” the lawsuit alleged, “will most likely never be physically or emotionally able to partake in a public high and will forever lose all associated benefits, irreparably affecting its personal and educational growth and development.”
Regarding what PW did for the school after the incident, the lawsuit states that “PW is now a student of PA Cyber as of May 2020”.
Contact Ed Palattella at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @ETNpalattella.