Pottsville Files Motion to Dismiss Hazing Lawsuit
Pottsville Area School District filed a motion in federal court Friday to dismiss a student’s lawsuit related to the “hazing” incident that happened in 2018.
According to court documents obtained by Coal Region Canary, the Motion to Dismiss was filed April 26 in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania before judge Robert D. Mariani.
John E. Freund III filed the motion on behalf of Pottsville Area School District.
Pottsville’s motion Friday responds to a lawsuit filed by a high school junior and his parents on February 21. In that lawsuit, K.S. alleges Pottsville Area unfairly punished him for his purported role in a “hazing” incident last year.
The latest motion seeks to dismiss the entire lawsuit against the school district.
Pottsville “Hazing” Incident
The Pottsville “hazing” incident came to light after an anonymous letter was submitted to school board members and administration as well as the local media.
In the letter, K.S. is identified as a student who danced naked and rubbed his genitals on or near an autistic man in the football locker room. The autistic man is often seen around the Pottsville High sports teams, particularly the football and boys’ basketball teams. He’s been granted access to these teams, according to the school.
The letter reportedly alleges the incident involves more than one student. It also details one player placing a lollipop on his anus and giving it to the victim in this incident to eat.
Following receipt of the letter, the school board and administration conducted some questionable investigations into the matter.
In the end, K.S. received a 10-day out-of-school suspension. His suspension also affected his ability to play varsity basketball as the school’s team was entering postseason competition.
Further, the school also suspended two members of its staff, the Athletic Director Eric Rismiller and Dean of Students Rusty Yost, who is also an assistant football coach.
After the suspension, K.S. returned to the basketball team but was held from the starting lineup for several minutes each game in the PIAA playoffs.
Amid all this, Pottsville also relieved the head football coach at the time, Tom McGeoy. The school eventually re-hired the coach (another story altogether).
K.S. v. Pottsville Area School District
The lawsuit K.S. v. Pottsville Area School District is filed in federal court. In it, K.S., a Pottsville Area High School junior student, alleges he’s the victim of unfair and biased treatment by school officials.
The unfair treatment he alleges relates to the so-called hazing incident. The claims are outlined in 5 counts.
- Count 1: The school’s 10-day suspension was “arbitrary, capricious, and prejudicial” to the student.
- Count 2: Pottsville Area denied K.S. due process during an “informal hearing” after which the suspension was enforced. This argues K.S. was prohibited from calling witnesses on his behalf during an informal hearing at the school.
- Count 3: K.S. was denied First Amendment “free expression” rights. In this count, K.S. argues the alleged naked dance — which he denies doing — was an expression, not a hostile act toward the autistic man. Essentially, this argues we’re all free to dance in various stages of undress in a locker room, per the U.S. Constitution.
- Count 4: This alleges Pottsville Area acted with bias toward K.S. Normally, the lawsuit argues, the school ignores anonymous complaints. They say it’s been school policy.
- Count 5: The policy which K.S. allegedly violated and caused his suspension is vague and unconstitutional. It also calls into question the validity of school policy. K.S. was allegedly suspended according to the school’s Harassment policy, which covers student v. student acts. In this case, the alleged victim is not a student.
K.S. wants the following to result from his lawsuit:
- Compensatory damages
- Compensation for attorney fees (represented by Pottsville lawyer Albert J. Evans, of Fanelli, Evans, and Patel)
- Punitive damages
- Suspension reversal
- Incident removed from discipline record
Pottsville Hazing Lawsuit Update
In Friday’s Motion to Dismiss, the school argues against each count in the K.S. lawsuit. It says Judge Mariani should dismiss the lawsuit entirely.
“The claims and legal theories asserted in Plaintiffs’ complaint fail to state claim as a matter of law and, accordingly, should be dismissed,” Freund writes for the district.
On Counts 1 and 2, the school says students can’t appeal a 10-day school suspension in a court. The school also argues it met the requirement for granting due process, as it relates to this punishment. This requirement doesn’t afford K.S. the ability to question witnesses who spoke against him on this matter.
On Count 3, the school says the dance K.S. allegedly performed is not an expressive dance. Rather, it’s a “recreational dance” and not covered under First Amendment rights. The school adds, “Plaintiffs point to no evidence that would suggest this was an expressive activity or what message it was allegedly expressing.”
For Count 4, the school believes the argument K.S. is treated differently than others in this case is false.
“In fact,” Freund writes, “there is nothing in the complaint to even suggest that student is a member of protected class.” (sic)
Finally, the school argues against Count 5 of the K.S. lawsuit. It says the policy can’t be called into question. It doesn’t violate free expression rights, which they say already don’t apply to this case.
READ OUR PREVIOUS COVERAGE OF THE POTTSVILLE HAZING INCIDENT:
- Pottsville Sweeping “Hazing” Under the Rug
- Pottsville Hazing Cover-up – More Than a Football Incident
- Alleged “Hazing” at Pottsville School Exposes Failed Leadership, Puts Students at Risk
- Pottsville Athletic Director, Football Coach on Administrative Leave After “Hazing” Incident Uncovered
Photos: Coal Region Canary