BLUEFIELD – A Mercer County woman has filed suit against the Mercer County Board of Education and some of its employees, alleging her daughter was wrongfully denied the opportunity to participate in band because of sexual harassment she endured from her peers.
Denise Copolo claims her 15-year-old daughter, identified only as A.C. throughout the complaint, became subjected to sexual harassment by students at Princeton Senior High School during the 2008-09 school year.
According to the complaint filed Dec. 16 in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia, A.C.'s peers began calling her names, taunting her, teasing her and bullying her to such a degree that she became upset, depressed, lethargic, anxious, sick to her stomach and suicidal.
"As an example of the harassment experienced by A.C., students repeatedly spread sexual rumors about her, referred to her as a slut or other insulting names, and intentionally mispronounced her name in such a way as to reference sexual activity," the suit states.
In response to the harassment, Copolo and her daughter attempted to speak to the school counselor, defendant Kathy Fredeking, in late November or early December 2008. However, Fredeking dismissed the allegations, saying she did not believe the students would act in such a manner, the complaint says.
After receiving no help from Fredeking, A.C. and her mother approached Princeton Senior High School principal Jack Parker about the alleged harassment, but Parker also failed to address the issue, Copolo claims.
On Jan. 16, 2009, Copolo and her daughter filed a complaint with a juvenile probation officer, but asked the officer to suspend the investigation to give Parker time to address the situation, according to the complaint.
"Parker's inaction continued for more than a month, while the harassment did not cease," the suit states. "On or about February 25, 2009, the plaintiffs made a second contact with the Juvenile Probation Officer and asked that the officer begin an investigation."
To begin his investigation, the juvenile probation officer contacted Parker, who requested that the officer delay his investigation to give Parker additional time to talk to students, the complaint says.
After discovering the further delay, Copolo claims she and her daughter approached the Mercer County Board of Education to request permission for A.C. to switch schools, but the board denied the request.
To avoid the harassment, Copolo requested that her daughter be placed on homebound. The board granted that request, but A.C.'s homebound instructor struggled to teach her geometry and failed to give her necessary mid-terms, so A.C.'s grades began to suffer, according to the complaint. After being on homebound for one month, A.C. decided to return to Princeton Senior High School.
"Upon return to Princeton Senior High School A.C. found herself the subject of the same type of harassment she faced before," the suit states. "A.C. not only faced continued harassment, but she was also behind in her education due to the inadequate homebound teacher and the massive distraction that the ongoing harassment caused both in school and at home."
Despite the harassment, A.C. decided to return to Princeton High School in the fall of 2009, primarily because she wanted to participate in the band.
"On or about late July or early August 2009, the band director, [defendant Julia] Kade, informed A.C. that she was not welcome to return to the band because of all the drama surrounding the harassment A.C. faced during the 2008-09 school year," the suit states.
In her five-count suit, Copolo alleges the defendants violated Title IX, intentionally inflicted emotional distress, were grossly negligent, violated state statutes and violated the West Virginia Human Rights Act.
She seeks compensatory, emotional distress, exemplary and punitive damages, plus injunctive relief requiring all defendants to comply with state and federal law, attorneys' fees, costs and other relief the court deems just.
Kevin Baker and Sarah K. Brown of Baker and Brown in Charleston will be representing her.
U.S. District Court case number: 1:09-1153