U.S. Supreme Court refuses to hear Beaver County family's appeal on school bullying claim
By David Conti
Published: Monday, Dec. 16, 2013, 10:33 a.m.
A Beaver County family lost the final round of a federal court battle over whether Blackhawk School District should have done more to protect their daughters from bullies.
The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday refused to hear an appeal by twins Brittany and Emily Morrow, 20, and their parents, Bradley and Deirdre Morrow of West Mayfield, effectively ending the fight that began in 2010.
Their lawsuit claimed Blackhawk officials violated the sisters' civil rights by refusing to expel a student who repeatedly attacked and harassed them.
“We are, of course, disappointed,” said Morrow family attorney Albert A. Torrence of Beaver, who handled the case pro bono. “The fact that a public school does not have a constitutional duty to protect children in its care comes as a surprise to a lot of people.”
School district administrators and their attorney declined comment.
“I don't think there is a winner or loser in this,” said Blackhawk school director Rich Oswald, former president of the board. “As the courts said, there's only so much you can do. Students can't be watched all hours in the halls.”
The Morrows sued two years after they pulled Brittany and Emily from the district, which they said an administrator suggested after several incidents in 2008. The sisters graduated from Lincoln Park Performing Arts Charter School, Torrence said.
The Morrows could not be reached.
Their lawsuit said a classmate attacked the sisters, calling Brittany a “cracker” and “retarded,” harassing her by phone and Internet, and trying to push her down stairs.
Juvenile court officials declared the student delinquent and ordered her to stay away from the Morrows but incidents continued, the lawsuit states.
The lawsuit claimed Blackhawk officials had a duty to protect the twins and caused a dangerous situation. Torrence said the family sued even after the sisters left because they didn't want to see other children go through suchtreatment.
“It's my belief that the relationship between a minor child and a public school system is, in fact, custodial,” said Torrence, the solicitor for Beaver Area Schools who has argued cases over the constitutional duty to protect children. “I think the court should extend the duty where the school has actual knowledge that the harm is occurring.”
A federal magistrate in Pittsburgh rejected the claim in 2011, ruling the district did not have any “special relationship” with individual students that requires protection.
In a 10-4 decision, the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in June ruled the same.
Oswald said the district uses an anti-bullying program common in other districts and polices students the best it can.
“There's always students with problems with each other,” he said. “I think we did all we could. They didn't agree.”
David Conti is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-388-5802 or email@example.com.
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