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Thomas v. Springfield School Committee

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

November 19, 2014

RHODLYN THOMAS, individually, and on behalf of her minor child, BW, Plaintiff,
v.
SPRINGFIELD SCHOOL COMMITTEE, THE CITY OF SPRINGFIELD, ALAN INGRAM, MARY ANNE MORRIS, and JONATHAN SWAN, Defendants

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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For Rhodlyn Thomas, Individually and on behalf of her minor child B.W., Plaintiff: Daniel T.S. Heffernan, LEAD ATTORNEY, Sherry L. Rajaniemi-Gregg, Kotin, Crabtree & Strong LLP, Boston, MA.

For Springfield School Committee, City of Springfield, Alan Ingram, Ed.D, Mary Anne Morris, Ed.D, Jonathan Swan, Defendants: Anthony I. Wilson, LEAD ATTORNEY, John T. Liebel, City of Springfield, Springfield, MA.

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MEMORANDUM AND ORDER ON DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT AS TO ALL COUNTS OF THE PLAINTIFF'S COMPLAINT

MARK G. MASTROIANNI, United States District Judge.

(Dkt. No. 36)

This action is brought by Plaintiff, Rhodlyn Thomas, individually and on behalf of her minor child, " BW," pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, 86 Stat. 373, 20 U.S.C. § 1681(a) (2006) (" Title IX" ), Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act, see 42 U.S.C. § 12131-12165 (2006) (" ADA" ), and certain provisions of Massachusetts law.[1] Plaintiff has filed this suit against Defendants (1) Jonathan Swan

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(" Swan" ), the principal of the school attended by BW at the time of the incidents, (2) Alan Ingram (" Ingram" ), Superintendent of the Springfield Public Schools, (3) Mary Anne Morris (" Morris" ), the Director of Pupil Services for the Springfield Public Schools, (4) the Springfield School Committee, and (5) the Springfield Public Schools (together with the Springfield School Committee, the " Springfield Defendants" ). She asserts Defendants' mishandling of peer-to-peer harassment deprived BW of educational opportunities and her civil rights.

Defendants have moved for summary judgment on all of Plaintiff's federal claims. Plaintiff opposes Defendants' motion for summary judgment. As the court is required to view the facts in the light most favorable to the Plaintiff, the court's recitation of the facts includes all relevant facts favorable to Plaintiff for which there is support in the record.

I. Background

2008-2009 School Year

During the 2008-2009 school year, BW was a sixth grader at Duggan Middle School (" Duggan" ) in Springfield. (Dkt. No. 37-1, BW Depo. at 19.) She received special education services to address a specific learning disability. (Dkt. No. 42-3, Morris Depo. at 46.) BW also has some social skills deficits and difficulties managing anxiety. (Id.) As a sixth grader, BW often acted younger than her age and did not show an interest in boys. (Dkt. No. 42-4, Berrios Depo. at 18-19.) Pursuant to her IEP, BW was in a substantially separate classroom during sixth grade, which meant that she spent most of her day in a single classroom with a teacher, Linda Cortelli (" Cortelli" ), and one or more aides, including Ronnie Berrios (" Berrios" ). (Dkt. No. 37-3, 2008-2009 IEP; Dkt. 42-4, Berrios Depo. at 13.) When BW did leave her classroom, she stayed with the same group of fewer than ten students, including one student referred to throughout this litigation, and hereinafter, as RJ. (Dkt. No. 37-1, BW Depo. at 12-14.)

On May 11, 2009, B.W., then age twelve, and the rest of her class were at gym class, together with students from other classes. (Dkt. No. 37-1, BW Depo. at 7; Dkt. No. 42-4, Berrios Depo. at 21-24; Dkt. No. 37-3, Incident Report dated 5/15/2009.) Their regular aide, Berrios, accompanied the students. (Dkt. No. 42-4, Berrios Depo. at 21-24.) During gym class, BW and another female student were sitting on the bleachers. RJ sat near them and Berrios observed RJ touch BW's breast and crotch. (Id.) BW was surprised by the touching and had not consented to it. (Dkt. No. 37-1, BW Depo. at 29.) After the touching occurred, Berrios separated the students. (Dkt. No. 42-4, Berrios Depo. at 21-24.) Cortelli called Plaintiff to inform her of the incident. (Dkt. 37-2, Thomas Depo. at 25.) Plaintiff filed a police report and later met with Cortelli. (Id. at 27-31.) At her meeting with Cortelli, Plaintiff requested that RJ be placed in a different classroom. (Id. at 30.) Following the incident, RJ was suspended and when he returned to school he was placed in different class for the remainder of the 2008-2009 school year. (Dkt. 37-4, RJ Depo. at 11; Dkt. 37-1, BW Depo. at 34.)

2009-2010 School Year

When BW returned from summer break for her seventh grade year at Duggan, she was again placed in self-contained classroom with RJ, though with a new teacher, Dharam Khalsa (" Khalsa" ), and new aides. (Dkt. No. 37-1, BW Depo. 37-1 at 38-41.) Plaintiff was not informed that BW had been placed in the same classroom with RJ. (Dkt. No. 37-3, Thomas Depo. at 37-38.)

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It was not the policy of the Springfield Defendants to always inform classroom teachers of previous inappropriate incidents between students. (Dkt. No. 42-3, Morris Depo. at 33-35.) The court infers from the record that Khalsa was not informed about the May 2009 incident or instructed to pay particular attention to interactions between BW and RJ.

On January 15, 2010, the Friday before the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday, RJ asked BW, now aged thirteen, to be his girlfriend. (Dkt. No. 37-1, BW Depo. at 50.) She said she would have to think about it. (Id.) The following Tuesday, when they were back in school, BW told RJ she had not thought about being his girlfriend. (Id.) The two did not talk again until their last class of the day, gym. (Id. at 52.) The gym was in the basement of Duggan Middle School, while their self-contained classroom was on the second floor. (Dkt. No. 42-2, Letter from Swan to Khalsa dated January 28, 2010.) Duggan policy required an adult escort students from one location to another; students were not to be left unattended in hallways. (Id.) Khalsa did not accompany her class to the gym on January 19, 2010 and the court infers that she regularly failed to escort her students to the gym. (Id.)

After arriving at the gym, BW waited in the hallway for other students to arrive from other classes. (Dkt. No. 37-1, BW Depo. at 55-56.) While she was waiting, RJ approached her and directed her to walk back upstairs with him. (Id. at 55.) BW asked him why and then started to walk towards the gym. (Id.) RJ then threatened that he would " pull on [her] arm" if she did not walk with him. (Id.) BW walked with RJ through the school for approximately five minutes until they arrived at the school auditorium. (Id.) During that walk they did not see any school personnel. (Id.)

The auditorium was dark. (Id. at 57.) BW and RJ walked behind the piano. (Id.) RJ repeatedly told BW to pull her pants down. (Id.) BW repeatedly said no. (Id.) RJ pulled down his own pants and pulled down BW's pants and underpants. (Id.) He laid BW down and without her consent got on top of her and penetrated her vagina with his penis.[2] (Id. at 58-59.) After approximately two to three minutes, RJ got up, pulled up his pants and left the auditorium. (Id. at 59-60.) BW left the auditorium about a minute later. (Id. at 60.) BW collected her belongings from the locker room and got on her bus to go home. (Id. at 61.) BW did not report

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the incident to anyone that day. (Id.)

One or more days later,[3] BW's gym class took place right before lunch. (Id.) During gym class, BW was sitting on the bleachers and RJ walked towards her. (Id.) He told her to go with him or he would pull her arm. (Id. at 62.) BW left with RJ and they went to the auditorium where events occurred in the same manner as during the previous incident. (Id. at 64.) Afterwards, BW returned to the gym and then went with her class to lunch. (Id. at 66-67.) Again, she did not report the incident to anyone that day. (Id. at 67.)

The following day, or possibly several days later, while BW was in the cafeteria for lunch, another student said to her, " I heard you and RJ did it in the bathroom." (Id. 68-70.) At least one other student also asked BW if she and RJ " did it" in the bathroom. (Id. at 69.) BW said no, threw away her lunch and ran, crying, to the teacher's lounge, where she reported the incidents to a teacher. (Id.) That teacher sent BW to talk with the assistant teacher assigned to BW's self-contained classroom. (Id.) BW repeated her story to her teacher and then repeated it two more times for two other teachers. (Id. at 71.) A group of three teachers then took BW to the Vice Principal's office. (Id. at 73.) While in the Vice Principal's office, BW spoke with two vice principals and wrote a statement regarding the incident. (Id. at 73, 77.)

Plaintiff was not informed of the incident until two days later. (Dkt. No. 37-2, Thomas Depo. at 41.) RJ and BW both remained in the same self-contained classroom during those two days. (Dkt. No. 37-1, BW Depo. at 78-79.) Upon learning of the incidents, Plaintiff began keeping BW home from school. (Id. at 83.) She also tried to schedule a meeting with BW's IEP team to review the events and develop a safety plan for BW.[4] (Dkt. No. 37-2, Thomas Depo. at 70.) At a later date, Plaintiff did allow BW to return to Duggan, though BW attended just a single day.[5] (Dkt. No. 37-1, BW Depo. at 83.) Although BW and RJ ...


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