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Booker v. Bangor Area School District

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

March 24, 2015



LAWRENCE F. STENGEL, District Judge.

This is Title VI racial discrimination action brought by three former students of the Bangor Area School District, all of whom are African American. All three allege that they were subjected to harassment based on their race while they attended Bangor Area public schools. They allegedly brought the misconduct to the attention of school administrators, who failed to appropriately address the behavior. The defendant moves to dismiss one student J.W. from the action, arguing that his allegations do not pass muster under Rule 12(b)(6). For the reasons stated below, I will deny this motion.

I. Background[1]

J.W. is a fourteen-year-old minor, residing with his parents in the Bangor Area School District. In 2010, his family moved from New York State to Upper Bethel, Pennsylvania. He was enrolled as a student in the Bangor Area School District from January 2011 through the fall of 2014. He attended fifth and sixth grade at DeFranco Elementary School and seventh and eighth grade at Bangor Area Middle School. He is currently in ninth grade. J.W. was one of only a few African-American students in those schools. At both schools, he claims he was subjected to racial discrimination by students and staff. J.W. withdrew as a student in the early part of the 2014-2015 school year because of the "pervasive and unrelenting racial harassment" he experienced.

J.W. alleges that he was subjected to racially-motivated taunting by white students. He and his parents allegedly reported these incidents to school administrators. The school officials allegedly failed to take remedial actions. J.W. offers several examples of this harassment. On several occasions, he was called "nigger" and subjected to other racist comments by peers in both schools. In seventh grade at Bangor Middle School, J.W. was called "safe" while playing a game in gym class. Another student J.C. retorted "of course he's safe because he's black." In eighth grade, a student K.F. asked J.W., in a derogatory tone, if he liked eating watermelon and drinking grape soda, thereby referencing African-American stereotypes.

In music class, another eighth grade student J.L. stated that "the only music Black people know is rap music." He then looked directly at J.W. Thereafter, the music teacher allowed students to sing and chant songs promoting the Ku Klux Klan (KKK). During this singing, J.L. announced, "I'm racist and proud." He then looked at J.W. in an intimidating manner. J.W. and his parents registered a complaint with middle school officials. The assistant principal told them that the song was "just a silly song with a few lines."

J.W. alleges that he was also subjected to racially-discriminatory behavior by teachers. He claims that his sixth grade math teacher ignored and refused to call on him when he volunteered in class. She also did not correct an erroneous grade. This behavior was allegedly different than her treatment of similarly-situated white students in her classroom. In eighth grade, J.W. was reassigned to a homeroom for underperforming students. He believes this change was made solely based on his race. His academic performance began to suffer as a result of the change.

While in seventh grade, J.W. passed a group of teachers who were discussing a celebrity's buttocks. As he walked past, one teacher pointed directly at J.W. and said, "well he doesn't count!" J.W. felt publicly humiliated. He alleges the comment related to his race. J.W. reported the incident to both the principal and assistant principal. No remedial action was taken.

These allegations are similar to ones made by the other two plaintiffs in this action. J.W., along with the two other former students, filed this action on September 12, 2014. On November 24, 2014, the defendant moved to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6). On December 15, 2014, the plaintiffs filed an amended complaint.[2] The defendant moves to dismiss J.W. only, arguing that his factual allegations are not enough to state a claim under Title VI.

II. Standard of Review

A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted examines the legal sufficiency of the complaint.[3] Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957). The factual allegations must be sufficient to make the claim for relief more than just speculative. Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). In determining whether to grant a motion to dismiss, a federal court must accept all factual allegations in the complaint as true and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff. Id .; see also D.P. Enters. v. Bucks County Cmty. Coll., 725 F.2d 943, 944 (3d Cir. 1984).

The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure do not require a plaintiff to plead in detail all of the facts upon which she bases her claim. Conley, 355 U.S. at 47. Rather, the Rules require a "short and plain statement" of the claim that will give the defendant fair notice of the plaintiff's claim and the grounds upon which it rests. Id . The "complaint must allege facts suggestive of [the proscribed] conduct." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 564. Neither "bald assertions" nor "vague and conclusory allegations" are accepted as true. See Morse v. Lower Merion School Dist., 132 F.3d 902, 906 (3d Cir. 1997); Sterling v. Se. Pa. Transp. Auth., 897 F.Supp. 893 (E.D. Pa. 1995). The claim must contain enough factual matters to suggest the required elements of the claim or to "raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of" those elements. Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 234 (3d Cir. 2008) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556).

A court "may dismiss a complaint only if it is clear that no relief could be granted under any set of facts that could be proved consistent with the allegations." Brown v. Card Serv. Ctr., 464 F.3d 450, 456 (3d Cir. ...

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