Allegations re: C1 – Original Complaint

Allegations from the Complaint Concerning CHILD 1

  1. CHILD 1 is a 17 year-old female who was in her senior year of high school at ARCHER, just a few months from graduation, when she was subjected to harassment, intimidation, and severe emotional injury by defendants relating to a momentary and minor act of rudeness to her calculus instructor in December 2013.  ENGLISH intentionally and maliciously escalated this childish act (one that would normally warrant a minor sanction) into a dramatic and traumatic controversy that ultimately forced CHILD 1 to leave ARCHER in February 2014 and prevented her from continuing her relationships with teachers and classmates, receiving her diploma from ARCHER, and participating in graduation ceremonies and other senior activities, including the opportunities to dance in a show she helped design and perform her leadership role as co-captain of the dance troupe.  She was scheduled to receive her diploma along with her classmates on May 29, 2014.
  2. On or about December 13, 2013, a teacher at the ARCHER School for Girls reported to school administrators that Child 1, in a short emotional outburst behaved rudely on the day of a calculus exam.
  3. The behavior of CHILD 1 was reported to both AJ and MJ by ARCHER Dean of Students, Gretchen Warner (“WARNER”) and both parents, as they had in the past, offered their support to the school to determine a proper sanction. They made it clear that they did not condone any act of disrespect.
  4. CHILD 1 explained to her math teacher and administrators that she was under unusual stress because she did not feel ready for her calculus exam due to disconcerting worries relating to an imminent response to application for early consideration to Barnard College and the impact of a substantial family drama involving her sisters. She accepted responsibility for her inappropriate behavior and, on her own, apologized to her teacher within a few hours of the incident.
  5. Because CHILD 1 had been cited for talking back to the librarian a month earlier, WARNER decided that she should be required to appear before an Honors Educational Council consisting of a panel of 12 students, 3 faculty members and one administrator.
  6.  Shortly after being informed she would be required to appear before the Honor Education Council, CHILD 1 began to develop deep and severe anxiety and fear about being forced to expose herself to her peers.
  7. During at least one emotional meeting with Samantha Coyne Donnel (“COYNE”), Upper School Director and CHILD 1’s school appointed personal advisor, CHILD 1 broke down emotionally while describing her escalating fear and anxiety about having to appear before classmates and other faculty to explain the circumstances leading up to her rude behavior to her math teacher. She implored COYNE to consider other sanctions if they were thought necessary. COYNE said the issue was in the hands of ENGLISH who already decided that CHILD 1 must participate on the student hearing. Nevertheless, COYNE said she would pass on  CHILD 1’s request and offer to submit to any other form of sanction.
  8. AJ met with COYNE to express her reservations about the appropriateness of the student hearing process as designed and pointed out various deficiencies and defects in the process, including the likelihood that it would violate CHILD 1’s right of privacy guaranteed by HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) and other laws.
  9. Plaintiff AJ also said she did not oppose additional sanctions against CHILD 1 if the school thought they were needed but that requiring an emotionally fragile girl to be confronted and judged by more than a dozen adolescent peers was too harsh and could be seriously damaging. COYNE said she would pass on her objections to ENGLISH.
  10. WARNER initially scheduled the student hearing to take place just before the winter break, but for administrative reasons, she rescheduled the hearing for the first week of January.
  11. During the winter break COYNE informed AJ and CHILD 1 that ENGLISH was insistent on requiring the student hearing and that ENGLISH also was adamant that if she did not participate she would be forced to withdraw. COYNE urged CHILD 1 to comply rather than risk her entire career at ARCHER.
  12. Copies of e-mails provided to MJ by ENGLISH and statements made by COYNE to MJ and others indicate that ENGLISH had removed the matter from COYNE’s control and was exercising full control over the discussions and that COYNE was required to consult with and defer to ENGLISH on all matters concerning efforts to seek an alternative to the student hearing.
  13. ENGLISH’s ultimatum was a threat, designed to intimidate CHILD 1 and her parents into consenting to an appearance, despite compelling evidence that coerced participation would be extremely harmful, not advance any legitimate institutional objective, was improper, and was inconsistent with ARCHER policies and procedures. This improper threat was itself an action known and intended by ENGLISH to inflict emotional distress on CHILD 1 and her parents, MJ and AJ.
  14. Rather than run the risk of challenging what they believed was an unfair, unnecessary and improper ultimatum, both AJ and MJ were willing to allow CHILD 1 to participate in the hearing process if she felt she could do so without suffering undue trauma; but even contemplating the impending hearing resulted in a severe emotional breakdown of a sort never seen by her parents before. CHILD 1 expressed irrationally high anxiety at both the prospect of the hearing and of having to choose between the anticipated trauma of the hearing and the alternative of being forced out of the school during her senior year.
  15. The intensity and the duration of the emotional breakdown caused MJ and AJ to conclude that they needed a professional to diagnose and, if necessary, treat her condition. They immediately sought recommendations and hired a well-respected psychologist who specializes in adolescent well-being to diagnose and treat CHILD 1.
  16. On Friday, January 3, while ARCHER was still on winter break (and 3 days before the scheduled hearing), MJ sent a letter to COYNE informing her that CHILD 1 had suffered a severe emotional breakdown and that she would not attend school for the first week while she was undergoing diagnosis and treatment (obviously requiring a re-scheduling of the hearing). He also asked for a meeting with COYNE so he could update her and explore when and whether a new hearing or an alternative strategy would be pursued. COYNE agreed to the meeting and made no reference to any limitation on CHILD 1’s right to attend classes.
  17. In a June 9 letter to ENGLISH, prior to his meeting with COYNE, MJ   putting ENGLISH on notice of CHILD 1’s volatile and fragile emotional state and the opinion of CHILD 1’s psychologist as reasons why he and Anne had come to believe that requiring participation in the student hearing would be dangerous and damaging and why they thought pursuit of an alternative strategy was essential.
  18. MJ met with COYNE on Thursday, January 9, 2014.  Ms. Heather Keddie, CHILD 1’s college advisor, was present. During the meeting, MJ   explained the extraordinary nature of CHILD 1’s emotional condition and the failure of his and Anne’s efforts to persuade her that the process would not be as traumatic as she feared.
  19. MJ informed COYNE that he had spoken extensively to CHILD 1’s psychologist who examined and was beginning to treat CHILD 1 and that she was of the firm opinion that CHILD 1 had developed an irrational, but sincere phobia about the hearing and that if she were forced to participate it would inflict great and lasting emotional harm.
  20. MJ cited the school’s commitment to non-coercive discipline and repeated the criteria COYNE had sent to CHILD 1 outlining the goal of discipline. MJ pointed out that, according to ARCHER’s Handbook, the student hearing process was purely discretionary and that, clearly, other means could be found to accomplish ARCHER’s disciplinary goals. COYNE was sympathetic but she said ENGLISH expressly instructed her that she was not authorized to discuss any alternatives to the student hearing.
  21. The ARCHER Handbook specifies that the purpose of Honor Education Council (ARCHER’s name for the student panel) is to: 1) to educate groups of students, parents, and faculty about the honor system, and 2) to hear cases involving Honor Code violations within the Upper School with the sole purpose to “determine if a violation has occurred and, as needed, to offer a recommendation of appropriate response to the Upper School Director.” Appearance before the student panel is clearly not intended to be a sanction but simply a process to determine if a violation occurred and, “as needed” to give a recommendation to the Upper School Director. The Handbook also explicitly gives administrators discretion to determine whether a violation should to go to the Council and it also allows the administrator to waive or bypass the hearing process when deemed appropriate.
  22. Beyond the fact that ARCHER administrators had ample evidence that requiring CHILD 1 to appear before the student panel would inflict serious and lasting trauma and emotional distress well out of proportion to any sanction warranted by her conduct, requiring CHILD 1 to appear before the Council HEC was inappropriate and unnecessary according to its stated purpose. CHILD 1 readily and immediately admitted her conduct was a violation, its inappropriateness and apologized for it. Therefore, there was no need for a student board to determine if a violation has occurred.
  23. During the January 8, 2014 with MJ, COYNE indicated that in view of the nature of the violation and CHILD 1’s subsequent apology and acceptance of accountability, that AJ, MJ and CHILD 1 should not worry since only a minor sanction was appropriate. She explicitly ruled out a suspension as a sanction for CHILD 1’s rudeness. Therefore, there was no “need” of the Upper School director to receive a recommendation as to her response.
  24. Any technical arguments made to justify the value of a student hearing in this case are tenuous at best and, in no event, establish a strong enough institutional interest to justify the intentional infliction of emotional distress certain to result from mandating participation in the process.
  25. MJ indicated to COYNE that the long-term emotional and mental well-being of CHILD 1 was at stake and that the hearing process had turned into a sanction itself, rather than simply a means to determine the proper sanction for conduct CHILD 1 admitted to and already apologized for. COYNE repeated that she had no authority to discuss other options.
  26. MJ indicated to COYNE his belief that forcing AJ and MJ to go against the advice of CHILD 1’s psychologist or withdraw from the school was not right, fair or legal.
  27. During that meeting, COYNE also informed MJ, for the first time, that ENGLISH had also decided that CHILD 1 would not be allowed to return to school until she participated in the student hearing. MJ protested and asked for the basis and authority for effectively suspending CHILD 1 while they were still pursuing a search for an alternative. He pointed out that this “indefinite” suspension was not unauthorized by ARCHER rules and procedures and that neither CHILD 1 nor her parents were given any notice of this requirement and that he thought it was unfair, wrong and probably illegal. (Subsequently, ENGLISH denied that this was a suspension but offered no other description or explanation of her ruling that CHILD 1 would not be permitted to attend classes or come on campus).
  28. COYNE reiterated she had no authority to alter the position of ENGLISH and said he would have to take up his case directly with her and, as a result, the first and only meeting with ENGLISH on this issue was set for 11:00 AM Monday, January 13, 2014.
  29. COYNE indicated at the meeting that a written opinion of CHILD 1’s psychologist would be important and MJ commissioned CHILD 1’s psychologist to prepare a comprehensive written report that he could present to ENGLISH the following Monday. The report was detailed and contained explanations supporting the opinion that it would be traumatic and likely cause severe and lasting emotional distress to force CHILD 1 to participate in the hearing and MJ informed ENGLISH that he intended to bring the psychologist with him so she would be available to explain her findings and recommendations, including alternative ways to deal with the underlying disciplinary issue..
  30. On Sunday, January 12, 2014 ENGLISH sent MJ a response including the following passages: Attendance at the meeting will be limited to you, Anne (if she chooses), Scott Lord, Samantha Coyne, and myself. Please reassure C1 that my goal for her (as it is for every graduating student at Archer) is to: 1. Demonstrate capacity for self-reflection; 2. Take responsibility for her actions and their impact on others, in this case her teachers and classmates; 3. Have a clearly articulated plan and strategies for conducting herself in a way that is fundamentally respectful and line with Archer’s Honor Code (I would expect that her therapist can help her with this). If C1 can do these things, then I see no reason why she should not graduate from Archer and ultimately be successful in her relationships in college and beyond. Looking forward to talking with you tomorrow, Elizabeth
  31. The tone and content of this letter and other exchanges between MJ and ENGLISH during the weekend before the January 13, 2014 meeting led MJ, AJ and CHILD 1’s psychologist to believe that the final decision was not made and that ENGLISH was willing to consider the new evidence and proposals including the opinion and recommendations of CHILD 1’s psychologist and alternatives that would accomplish her three stated goals.
  32. CHILD 1 had been out of school for nearly a week and her parents and her psychologist thought she needed to get back to school. Believing that the issue of ENGLISH’s premature and peremptory suspension of CHILD 1 would be held in abeyance until his meeting (scheduled for 11:00 am Monday morning) with ENGLISH, MJ   supported the decision that CHILD 1 should go to school.
  33. Though ENGLISH knew from COYNE that MJ took strong issue with the previously unannounced suspension edict forbidding CHILD 1 to attend classes and that he intended to raise the issue during his meeting, With the malicious intent to ambush MJ and CHILD 1 if she came to school on the morning of MJ’s meeting with her, ENGLISH never once raised the issue of CHILD 1’s right to attend classes during their many pre-meeting exchanges.
  34. ENGLISH instructed WARNER to be on the lookout to see if CHILD 1 came to school and to send her home immediately if she did. Neither AJ nor MJ were given any notice of this intent and there was no legitimate institutional interest in harassing and humiliating CHILD 1 as ENGLISH knew she would be meeting with MJ in a few hours and could clarify her expectations then.
  35. When CHILD 1 appeared for classes, she was surprised and humiliated to be publicly summoned to WARNER’S office where she was told she was not allowed at school and that she must go home.
  36. CHILD 1 was extremely upset and confused and asked WARNER to please call her father. In still another callous act of harassment and intimidation, WARNER refused and told CHILD 1 she would have to tell her father herself. This violated a long-standing school and safety policy to never send a child home unless the parent is first notified.
  37. CHILD 1 suffered extreme emotional distress as a result of the decision to oust her from her school in front of her friends and she called her father to tell him what happened. MJ immediately placed calls to WARNER, COYNE and ENGLISH, each failed or refused to answer his call and or respond to his urgent request for a return call.
  38. On January 13, 2014, MJ arrived 45 minutes before the scheduled meeting with ENGLISH to deliver copies of the report and recommendations of CHILD 1’s psychologist so that ENGLISH and COYNE could review it before the meeting.  He asked ENGLISH’s secretary to deliver the report to ENGLISH and whether he could talk with ENGLISH about the decision to send CHILD 1 home. The secretary said she would immediately deliver the report to ENGLISH but that he could not meet with her because she was meeting with LORD.
  39. Plaintiffs are informed and believe that during this session prior to the meeting with MJ, LORD participated in discussions about MJ’s claims and requests (including CHILD 1’s mental condition), ENGLISH’s assessment of MJ’s motives and character, and that he approved of and supported her decision to force CHILD 1 to participate in the hearing and participated in a strategy on how she should deal with the meeting and MJ’s efforts to persuade her to adopt alternative methods.
  40. When the meeting began, LORD acted as if he were in charge. He asked MJ if he could tape record the meeting and whether MJ would state his goals for the meeting.
  41. MJ consented to Mr. Lord making an audio tape of the meeting and said his goal was to achieve the three objectives outlined in ENGLISH’s January 12 letter to him by seeking to present a mutually acceptable process that provided an opportunity for CHILD 1 to: 1) demonstrate that CHILD 1 has: 1) engaged in meaningful self-reflection concerning her behavior in December and, 2) demonstrated that she has taken responsibility for her actions and their impact on her teachers and classmates and 3) present to ENGLISH a clearly articulated plan and strategies to help CHILD 1 monitor and control her emotions so that she conducts herself in a way that is fundamentally respectful and in line with ARCHER’s Honor Code.
  42. MJ referred to the letter from CHILD 1’s psychologist and the several alternatives set forth that would achieve the above goals and he reiterated his willingness to collaborate with ENGLISH to devise any other process that would achieve her stated goals. MJ stressed that both he and AJ were not seeking to deter the school from holding CHILD 1 accountable but that they wanted to do so in the collaborative tradition of ARCHER and avoid unnecessary and unconstructive pain for Child 1 and severe damage to her psyche.
  43. MJ reminded ENGLISH that CHILD 1 had already accepted accountability for her actions and sought to make amends. He also asserted that though the student judicial process was designed to provide one way to determine whether and how a student should be sanctioned, that, as verified by CHILD 1’s psychologist, the process was actually being used as a gigantic punishment, disproportionate to the underlying offense of rudeness.
  44. When MJ was finished ENGLISH said her only goal for the meeting was to make it clear to MJ that her decision was final, that she does not negotiate with parents and that she expected all parents to support her decisions.
  45. MJ was astonished and asked why she allowed or required him to waste all his time preparing for the meeting and making his statement when none of it mattered. He asked her to consider the new evidence in the form of the psychologist’s report specific to Child 1. ENGLISH responded that the report would not change anything as lots of girls have an aversion to the student judicial process, but it always turns out to be a positive experience. She also said that, despite the fears of CHILD 1, her parents (and in direct opposition to the professional opinion of CHILD 1’s psychologist), ENGLISH was confident this would be a good and constructive experience for CHILD 1.
  46. Despite information provided by MJ, AJ, CHILD 1 and a thorough written report by CHILD 1’s psychologist that CHILD 1 had developed intense and unhealthy anxiety and fear causing severe emotional distress regarding the student hearing mandated by ENGLISH and despite extensive conciliatory efforts by MJ, AJ and CHILD 1 to devise an alternative strategy to deal with CHILD 1’s act of rudeness, ENGLISH  and ABOT members  LORD, Barbara Bruser (“BRUSER”), Barbara Natterson Horowitz (“HOROWITZ”), and Cathy Helm (“HELM”)  improperly and maliciously intimidated CHILD 1 and her parents with the threat that refusal of her parents to allow CHILD 1 to participate in the student hearing would result in a forced withdrawal (effectively an expulsion) that would jeopardize her status with Barnard College or subject CHILD 1 to an indefinite suspension (under the false pretext of a medical leave) that would effectively exclude her from receiving her education from ARCHER, participating in school activities and participating in graduation ceremonies.
  47. Unwilling to go against their own judgment and the advice of CHILD 1’s psychologist that forcing her to participate in the student hearing could cause traumatic, extreme and lasting emotional distress, MJ and AJ ultimately and reluctantly concluded they had to withdraw her from ARCHER and seek alternative educational means of allowing her to complete her requirements for a high school diploma and preserve her ability to attend Barnard College in the fall of 2014.

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