Justices Decline Duty-To-Protect Case In Student Drowning Death

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The U.S. Supreme Court last week declined to hear a case brought by the mother of a Pennsylvania special-education student who drowned after he was chased by other students following a school detention period.

The woman's lawsuit had sought to hold officials of the Carbondale, Pa., school district accountable for the death because of their alleged failure to protect the boy from the actions of the other students.

The suit for $1 million in damages was dismissed by a federal district judge, and an appeal of that decision was rejected by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.

Dorothea Hunter, the boy's mother, contended that district officials wrongfully placed the boy, a 7th grader, in detention with boys who had ridiculed and bullied him as a "sped''--a special-education student.

The boy, David Hadden, had a learning disability and was of slight build, according to court documents. The boy's special-education plan called for him not to be placed in mainstream classrooms, except for subjects such as physical education and music.

After the detention session in November 1989, Ms. Hunter's lawsuit said, a group of boys hunted and chased David around the grounds of Carbondale Area High School until he slipped and fell into a nearby creek, where he drowned.

Without comment, the High Court on Jan. 18 voted 8 to 1 against reviewing the case of Hunter v. Carbondale Area School District (Case No. 93-779). Associate Justice Harry A. Blackmun voted to hear the case.

The Pennsylvania case was one of three that the High Court has declined to hear in the past year dealing with the issue of school officials' duty to protect schoolchildren from harms such as sexual abuse or physical danger posed by teachers or other students. (See Education Week, Jan. 27, 1993.)

Patrick C. Carey, the mother's lawyer, said none of the boys who had chased David came to his aid when he fell into the creek. The boy's body was not found for four months, and three boys were later found delinquent on charges of third-degree homicide by gross negligence, the lawyer said. They were sentenced to serve in a juvenile facility until they turned 18.

Woman May Attend Citadel

In separate action last week:

  • Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist withdrew an emergency stay he had granted to The Citadel military school that had briefly barred the first woman from attending classes at the Charleston, S.C., institution.

The Chief Justice's action cleared the way for Shannon Faulkner to attend day classes at the state-supported college while she pursues her sex-discrimination suit to become a full member of The Citadel's corps of cadets.

  • The High Court declined to review two cases from Mississippi dealing with whether changes in school district boundaries were properly reviewed by the Justice Department under the Voting Rights Act. The cases were Moore v. Dupree (No. 93-835) and Lamar County Board of Education v. Dupree (No. 93-836).

Vol. 13, Issue 18

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