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Parent to sue West York district; attorney sends letter of intent

Attorney Rebecca Lyttle hosts a public meeting for parents to voice concerns about reported bullying in West York School District, Monday, January 28, 2019.
John A. Pavoncello photo

A parent who has accused West York Area School District of turning a blind eye to bullying intends to file a lawsuit against the district this fall, according to her legal team.

Rhonda Lucky, who cites continuing problems with students bullying her son, Ted, is seeking systematic changes including more proactive efforts and better policy enforcement.

Lucky has been fighting the district since December, when she said her son was bullied on the bus and staff did not respond appropriately. The district recently appealed an Office of Open Records ruling that it must publicly release a video of the incident to a television news station.

A "Notice Letter of Potential Lawsuit" was sent last week to the district, its elementary schools and middle school, the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency, the state Department of Education Office for Safe Schools, the OSS advocate and the West Manchester Police Department, said attorney Nathan Volpi.

According to a recent draft of the letter, the lawsuit could seek damages or declaratory or injunctive relief, but it would likely be the latter, said Volpi, who spoke on behalf of Lucky's attorney, Rebecca Lyttle, at a Tuesday meeting at Leg Up Farmers Market in Manchester Township.

"The plan right now is a heavy focus on some type of equitable relief — reform in the school system to fix it for everybody," said Volpi.

“That’s what I mainly am looking for,” said Don Burdine, another district parent who reported bullying problems and wishes to be involved in the lawsuit.

More:Parents to hold meeting on West York district bullying concerns

More:West York district files appeal to avoid releasing bus bullying video

Volpi said a judicial administrator or child psychologist would be brought in as an expert on those changes, but Lucky and Burdine have an idea of what they’d like to see.

"There's more diversity now that's in the school," Burdine said, adding that the district is essentially a connection between the city and the suburbs and programs need to be updated to serve these students.

The parents would also like to see the district's terminology for bullying changed, citing times when the district reported no incidents to the state.

An attorney for the district, Jeffrey Litts, has said some incidents do not meet the state's definition and that's why they're not reported to the Department of Education. 

The district is accused of "deliberate and ongoing indifference," failure to provide basic safety and inadequate practices, policies and procedures, according to the letter of intent.

It also accused the district of lying on Safe Schools and Department of Education reports and failing to inform parents of abuse or injury.

The department and Pennsylvania Office of Crime and Delinquency were called out for not providing proper oversight and training, while the West Manchester Police Department was accused of not following up on parental complaints and failure to provide incident reports to the district.

A district news release sent out Wednesday, June 26, said the district did not wish to respond to the letter, “especially when all but one of the purported plaintiffs are unnamed, and the factual allegations being relied upon are vague and devoid of any specificity.”

Spokeswoman Cindi Greco went on to say in the release that if, or when, the district receives an actual lawsuit, it will review the complaint and respond in the appropriate legal forum.

The letter of intent specified Lucky as the plaintiff, on behalf of her son Ted Grove, as well as other unnamed complainants. More than a dozen others would share their stories anonymously in court as witnesses, Volpi said.

He expects the lawsuit to be filed in federal district court, in the Middle District of Pennsylvania.

Volpi also filed an administrative complaint with the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission and Office of Civil Rights regarding Ted's bullying and similar issues faced by other students in the district.

Those complaints would be reviewed and investigated if warranted, and a “negotiated resolution” or settlement would be made with the district — the results of which could be monetary or involve negotiating policy changes or better training, he said.

The type of lawsuit is not yet decided, but Volpi said the plaintiffs are considering a federal class action lawsuit for discrimination and bullying.