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Lawsuit filed against Cape Fear Academy after student banned from commencement due to petition

Published: Oct. 7, 2021 at 2:41 PM EDT
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - Cape Fear Academy is accused of discrimination and retaliation after a student was banned from participating in commencement ceremonies due to her role in an online petition, according to a lawsuit filed against the school this week.

In the complaint, the student, listed as Jane Doe, and other female students at the school claim they were subjected to “bullying” and “sexual harassment” from some of the male students.

“In early May, Administrators at CFA chose certain students to speak at graduation, including some of the same male students that had sexually harassed and bullied both Jane Doe and Jane Roe and other female students at CFA, and that had also made racially derogatory and insensitive comments to other students and on their social media pages,” the complaint states.

A group of approximately 17 students reportedly met with a counselor and the dean of students to inform them of their complaints of the harassing and bullying behavior by some of the students picked to speak.

According to the complaint, several students met with the counselor again on May 13 after no action had been taken and discussed the “the idea of preparing and posting a petition for the purpose of protesting CFA permitting these male students to speak at graduation, an idea which (the counselor) endorsed, and that separately, another CFA faculty member (a teacher of Jane Doe), expressed that the ‘idea of a petition is smart.’”

The lawsuit claims that Jane Doe did not participate in the drafting of the text of the petition but she did upload the finished petition to change.org that same day,

CFA’s Dean of Students met with Jane Doe the following day and told her since she was the one who uploaded the petition, she was “going to have to take the rap for it,” the complaint says.

“Jane was told that unless she apologized for something that she had no reason to apologize for, contrary again to Cape Fear Academy’s own policy, she would not be permitted to attend the salute to seniors event, she would not be permitted to attend that once in a lifetime event called high school graduation,” said Gary Shipman, the attorney representing Jane Doe and her family.

On May 19, Jane Doe’s mother received an email from the school’s Upper School Director stating her daughter’s “decision to publish the petition on a public platform, use the CFA logo without permission, and use the full names of CFA students was a poor one, and although [Jane] may not fully understand the ramifications of her actions on the people she names, the petition may have unintended harmful consequences.”

Jane Doe was required to write an apology note to the students mentioned in the petition.

During communication on May 20 and May 21, Jane Doe’s parents were informed that if she did not apologize by May 23, she would not be permitted to attend CFA’s Salute to Seniors and CFA’s commencement exercises, the complaint states.

On May 23, the Jane Doe made the decision not to apologize, and her mother informed the school’s Dean of Students and Upper School Director of her daughter’s decision.

The complaint also states that on June 4, the student’s family received a letter stating that the enrollment contract for her younger sister, a rising junior, was being terminated by Cape Fear Academy.

“Cape fear academy terminated the enrollment contract of her younger sister, Jill, for the upcoming year, contending that the final straw, if you will, was Jane’s parents’ support of Jane’s decision not to apologize to young man who she owed no apology to,” said Shipman.

Cape Fear Academy released the following statement in response to the lawsuit:

“Cape Fear Academy takes allegations of this nature quite seriously. As much as we would like to respond to these allegations, federal law constrains us from offering specific comments about matters involving particular students. However, we remain committed to providing all our students with a superior educational experience in an environment free of harassment and other distractions, and we will continue to prioritize their health, safety, and emotional well-being. We take pride in knowing that Cape Fear Academy has offered that experience to students for more than 54 years and we look forward to serving them in the decades to come.”

The plaintiffs seek in excess of $75,000 for their claims of inflecting emotional distress and breach of contract as well as compensatory damages “for deprivation of equal access to the educational opportunities and benefits provided at CFA, and damages for past, present and future emotional pain and suffering, ongoing mental anguish, loss of past, present and future enjoyment of life, and such other damages.”

The full complaint can be read below:

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