Suit charging bullying dismissed

Posted: September 5, 2013

The Winchester Star

WINCHESTER — A lawsuit alleging that the city school system failed to protect two disabled Handley High School students from bullying and intimidation has been dismissed.

Judge B. Waugh Crigler stated in court documents filed on Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Harrisonburg that Robert and Catherine Augustine of Winchester, grandparents of the children and plaintiffs in the case, were well-intentioned.

However, their lawsuit failed to state a claim for which relief could be granted and failed to demonstrate that the federal court has jurisdiction over the subject matter, so the judge dismissed the suit.

“The plaintiffs allege that M.A. and T.A. are disabled and that school officials failed to prevent peer harassment, and despite the fact that they have been given ample opportunity to amend their complaint, they do not claim either or both that this failure was targeted against disabled children or the result of a board ordinance or policy,” Crigler wrote.

The Augustines’ suit sought $150,000 in damages from Winchester Public Schools on behalf of their two grandchildren, for whom they have served as guardians since birth.

The suit alleges violations of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Americans With Disabilities Act.

School officials were given a notice of intent to file the suit by Robert Augustine on Feb. 20. That notice was filed as the lawsuit.

The suit states that one of the students was the victim of bullying, assault, intimidation and civil rights violations during the 2010-11 school year and that these actions continued into the 2012-13 school year.

“Although administrators, teachers, staff and servants of Winchester Public Schools were notified by the guardians, they failed to protect the student and cease the above issues,” the lawsuit states.

The suit also lists specific incidents from as recently as Feb. 19 and 20, alleging “bullying, intimidation and cyber bullying by another student.”

“The administrators, teachers, staff and servants of the defendants failed to take action and protect the student,” the suit states.

In a written response, Harrisonburg attorney Douglas L. Guynn, representing WPS, denied all allegations against the division.

The school district sought to have the suit dismissed on the basis that: the court does not have jurisdiction; the complaint fails to state sufficient facts to establish subject matter jurisdiction over some or all of the claims; and that the school system is not a proper defendant because it is not a recognized legal entity.

The Augustines filed an amended complaint after a previous hearing with Crigler.

In the amended version, they only sought damages for one of their grandchildren, M.A.

Robert Augustine has told The Winchester Star that his grandson is autistic and has learning disabilities, and his granddaughter is deaf in one ear, nearly deaf in the other and also has learning disabilities.

The lawsuit states that both students have suffered emotional and psychological difficulties and are under medical care.

Neither Augustine nor Winchester Schools Superintendent Rick Leonard could be reached for comment on Wednesday.

— Contact Melissa Boughton at mboughton@winchesterstar.com