What to Know
- The mother of a New Jersey student with Down syndrome who was forced to leave the senior prom early has filed suit against the school district
- The suit was filed by Katherine Trusky in Somerset County Superior Court on Dec. 9 and argues that Hillsborough High School student, identified as L.D., as well as her friends were “humiliated" and "singled out"
- The district denies the allegations and is looking forward to fighting the claims in court
The mother of a New Jersey student with Down syndrome who was forced to leave the senior prom early has filed suit against the school district, claiming her daughter was the victim of discrimination due to her disability.
The suit was filed by Katherine Trusky in Somerset County Superior Court on Dec. 9 and argues that Hillsborough High School student, identified as L.D., was “humiliated, singled out, and forced to leave the Senior Prom early while other, “neurotypical,” students were allowed to continue.”
The lawsuit goes on to say that the memorable night that L.D. and her friends were meant to cherish, “turned into a nightmare that will haunt Plaintiffs for the rest of their lives.”
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According to the lawsuit, when L.D. picked up her tickets for the May 17 Senior Prom the tickets stated that “All attendees are required to stay until 11:00 p.m.” and that “limos may arrive no earlier than 11:15 p.m.”
Additionally, according to the suit, a school social worker sent out an email to parents of students with special needs let them known that although the prom was scheduled to end at 11:30 p.m., limos would be permitted to start picking up students at 11:15 p.m.
The student and her friends, some who had special needs and others who were “neurotypical,” made plans to attend, and parents arranged for a limousine.
Three special-education aides – Pamela Figard, Kathy Reddan and Toni Marchak – were assigned to help L.D. and her friends at the prom. However, Figard, the lawsuit charges, told the limousine driver to pick them up at 10:45 p.m., despite his protests that he wasn't supposed to arrive until 11:15 p.m.
At about 10:05 p.m., two of L.D.’s friends overheard Figard call the limousine driver and tell him he "better be at the prom at 10:35 p.m. to pick up students," according to the lawsuit, which also claimed that Figard told another of L.D.’s friends to be ready "in half an hour."
The three aides then "forced several students with disabilities to leave the dance floor in the middle of a song while the rest of the students continued dancing," according to the lawsuit.
The aides forced them to leave in front of their classmates who were still enjoying the Senior Prom," the lawsuit alleges.
L.D. and her friends were "humiliated" for being singled out and several students began to protest, according to the lawsuit. In response to the complaints, Figard allegedly replied, “I’m the adult here.”
According to the lawsuit, two of L.D.’s friends “begged” to stay to see who would be crowned Prom King and Queen.
The lawsuit also alleges that a number of the students asked to leave early were “openly weeping” as they were being led out of the ballroom.
Allegedly, though there were vice principals in attendance, they did nothing to stop the aides from forcing L.D. or her friends to leave early.
“Defendant Figard later justified her actions by explaining that she wanted to give L.D. and her friends plenty of time to walk safely to their limousine through empty hallways before prom ended and the rest of attendees exited the ballroom,” according to the lawsuit. “Defendant Figard said her decision was motivated by a concern that the students’ disabilities would make it difficult for them to safely navigate crowded hallways.”
However, the lawsuit continues, that “when L.D. and her friends – including the visually-impaired student – walked the short distance from the ballroom to their limousine, they were unaccompanied” by the aides.
As soon as the students left in their limousine, the three aides allegedly went home.
The lawsuit claims that Figard’s “decision to force L.D. and her friends to exit the Senior Prim was motivated by her desire to finish her night of work and go home early rather than by any effort to give L.D. and her friends the best and safest possible Prom experience.”
Following the alleged incident, the district launched a Harassment, Intimidation and Bullying (HIB) investigation, according to the lawsuit.
In a subsequent letter dated June 17, the suit says, the district acknowledged that L.D. and her friends should not have left the Senior Prom early but the investigation didn’t reveal it was done intentionally or with malice.
The lawsuit goes on to say that as a result of the district’s failure to respond to Trusky’s complaints and remedy the situation, the family decided to move to a new school district.
Trusky’s attorneys R. Armen McOmber and Nicholas Carlson, from the firm McOmber & McOmber, told News 4 that the “lawsuit reflects the obligation to hold public schools accountable for discriminating against students with disabilities. All students deserve equal treatment by school employees and equal access to school events. Our client was not treated equally and suffered immense embarrassment and emotional pain as a result. We intend to vindicate her rights under the law.”
However, in a statement Wednesday, the school denied the allegations of discrimination.
“The district is aware of the lawsuit, and denies all charges of discrimination alleged therein. The District is proud of its commitment to providing all students with an excellent educational environment that is inclusive and non-discriminatory, and looks forward to presenting its defense to the allegations in court,” the statement read.