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Doe v. The Board of Education of Metamora Township High School District

United States District Court, C.D. Illinois

July 23, 2018

JOHN DOE, a Minor, by and through his father and Next Best Friend, WILLIE WILLIAMS. Plaintiff,
v.
THE BOARD OF EDUCATION OF METAMORA TOWNSHIP HIGH SCHOOL DISTRICT

          ORDER AND OPINION

          JAMES E. SHADID CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Now before the Court is Defendants' Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 20) Plaintiff's First Amended Complaint. For the reasons set forth below, Defendants' Motion (Doc. 20) is DENIED.

         Background [1]

         Plaintiff Willie Williams brings this action on behalf of his minor child, John Doe. At the time Plaintiff filed the Amended Complaint, Doe was a 14-year-old freshman student at Metamora Township High School (“MTHS”) and the only Black student on the MTHS freshman football team. MTHS is owned and operated by the Board of Education of Metamora Township High School District No. 122 (the “Board” or “District”), an Illinois public school district and local government entity created under the laws of Illinois. The District also receives federal funding, and is therefore subject to Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000d et seq. Doc. 22, at 1-2.

         In his Amended Complaint, Plaintiff names as Defendants the Board; Board President Amy Defreitas; Vice President and Secretary Melissa Heil; Board members Diane Grebner, Stefanie McAllister, Blake Mishler, Jay Springer, and Wendy Vogel; District Superintendent Sean O'Laughlin; MTHS Principal Edward List; Assistant Principal Terry Vaughn; and MTHS head coach Pat Ryan. The claims are brought against the individual Defendants in both their individual and official capacities. Id. at 3-4.

         The events giving rise to this action first began on or around September 23, 2017, when four White students on the MTHS football team recorded a video at one of the student's residences. As alleged in the Amended Complaint, the students made several derogatory remarks and slurs on the video, including such statements as:

a) “I used to own you back in the day, ” then when questioned by another Student as to what he used to own, the Student then responded, “Black people, ” while pointing a toy gun and making shooting motions toward the camera;
b) “Go back where you came from” - apparently referencing Black people going to Africa;
c) Raising up a stuffed monkey, one Student stated, “This is a Black person, right here, ” then forcefully threw the stuffed monkey to the floor and forcefully threw/slammed several items on top of the stuffed monkey;
d) Referring to the stuffed monkey specifically by DOE's name;
e) Requesting one Student to sing the “Alabama Black person song”;
f) Singing, “I'm an Alabama n***er and I'm born to be free”, and “I'm a porch monkey and I'm born to be free”;
g) Making numerous references to “porch monkey”, “n***er”, and “stupid n***er”;
h) Stating that “Back in Nam, all our troops were White people. We didn't have no n***ers in the squad”, apparently referencing troops who served during the Vietnam War; and
i) Referencing Doe specifically by name.

Id. at 5-6. After recording, one of the students sent the video to Doe via text message. Doe notified his father about the video two days later, on September 25, 2017. Id. at 6.

         On September 25, 2017, Williams brought the video to Assistant Principal Vaughn's attention. The next day, Vaughn informed Williams that the students who made the video would receive a one-game suspension for the incident. However, the students only missed one day of football practice and were not suspended for one game. On September 27, 2017, Williams told Vaughn that a one-game suspension was not strict enough, and that the students did not actually receive the purported suspension in the first place. Williams also spoke with MTHS Principal List about the video and the District's response, and requested a meeting with the students and their parents. List informed Williams that he had not had a chance to review the entire video yet and would set up a meeting after the MTHS homecoming activities. On September 28, 2017, Williams spoke with District Superintendent O'Laughlin about the video. O'Laughlin informed Williams that the discipline he proposed-banning the students from football for the remainder of the season and from all extracurricular activities for the remainder of the school year-was too harsh. However, O'Laughlin also told Williams that the students would receive further punishment and would not be playing in the September 29, 2017 football game. Id. at 6-7.

         Three of the four students were not allowed to play at the September 28, 2017 football game. On September 30, 2017, Williams complained on Facebook about what he perceived to be the District's refusal to take adequate disciplinary action against the students. Williams alleges that the District only arranged for a meeting with the student and their parents after he made the Facebook post. On October, 1, 2017, the Board held a special meeting to discuss the video incident and the discipline imposed, and ultimately decided to suspend the students involved for two football games. Board Member Vogel indicated at the meeting that the Board declined to impose harsher discipline because MTHS Coach Ryan would not have wanted to do so, and Ryan wanted the students to feel like they were part of the team. Id. at 6-7.

         On November 14, 2017, Doe witnessed two MTHS students repeatedly referring to each other as “n***er” while walking down the hallway. After Doe reported the incident to O'Laughlin, one of the students posted on his Facebook profile that he was going to jump Doe for reporting him to O'Laughlin. Williams requested that the student be disciplined for threatening to retaliate against Doe, and that the student be removed from Doe's math class to minimize any future threat to Doe. However, O'Laughlin and the District refused to take any further action in response to the threat. Id. at 7.

         Plaintiff alleges that the Defendants have a long-standing history of refusing to investigate and take appropriate action in response to bullying, especially with repespect to bullying based on race or other protected categories. In support, Plaintiff alleges the following conduct:

a) Repeated racism toward and mistreatment of Black freshman football players, going back several years;
b) Repeated racial slurs and taunting directed toward a student during the 2017-2018 school year (done by three of the four Students involved in ...

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