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Private school claims it’s not subject to law in case with Black family over racist bullying

Texas

Carol Ozemhoya | OW Contributor | 2/9/2018, 12:53 p.m.
A teenage student and his family have sued a religious private school in...

A teenage student and his family have sued a religious private school in Texas after the teen allegedly experienced bullying of a racist nature, reports the Huffington Post. The student claims the school did next to nothing to stop the bullying. But the school says its religious doctrine makes it immune from legal repercussions. The school’s counsel filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit on these grounds in August. A judge is expected to decide whether to move forward with the lawsuit later this month, per public documents obtained by HuffPost. Maureen Beans and her son, C.R., had a bad experience at Trinity Episcopal School in Galveston, Texas, according to the lawsuit filed in May. C.R., who attended Trinity for sixth and seventh grades, starting in 2014, was a Black student at the overwhelmingly white private school. He claims he was relentlessly bullied, sometimes in ways that appeared racially motivated. In one incident, his three tormentors allegedly gave him pieces of origami designed to resemble hoods worn by Ku Klux Klan members. Throughout this time, school administrators reportedly ignored the problem, even after C.R.’s family brought it to their attention, the lawsuit says. Even though the students admitted to the bullying, according to the lawsuit, they were only given one-day suspensions and required to apologize ― consequences the plaintiff says is sorely lacking. Days after the school doled out the punishment, Beans decided to pull her son from Trinity and enroll him elsewhere. Now, in a move that’s raised eyebrows among lawyers and legal experts, the school is trying to get the lawsuit dismissed by invoking the ecclesiastical abstention doctrine. This legal principle, also called the church autonomy doctrine, holds that religious institutions do not need to follow the same laws as non-religious entities, like public schools, if it conflicts with their religious doctrine. It applies in cases where a decision from a civil judge would infringe on the internal religious organization of a group, like how a religious organization can choose to have only male or female clergy members perform specific tasks. Trinity says it disputes the assertions made in the Beans’ lawsuit. But it is also essentially arguing that because it is a religious organization, it is allowed to maintain its own discipline system, which may or may not involve consequences for racist bullying.