Family sues prestigious N.Y. private school for expelling daughter, allegedly for standing up to bully

A Palestinian-American Muslim family is suing the Hewitt School, an all-girls school in New York City, for expelling their daughter, allegedly after she stood up to a bully. The family says their national origin and religion were the reasons. (Photo: Getty Images)
A Palestinian-American Muslim family is suing the Hewitt School, an all-girls school in New York City, for expelling their daughter, allegedly after she stood up to a bully. The family says their national origin and religion were the reasons. (Photo: Getty Images)

The family of a Palestinian-American Muslim girl is suing her prestigious private school for expelling her, allegedly because the girl defended herself against a bully

The Dec. 3 lawsuit, first reported on by the New York Post, alleges that a seventh-grade student at the Hewitt School, an all-girls school in New York City, was expelled after confronting the classmate, who had threatened to kill her. The motive, says the family, was the girl’s national origin and religion.

According to the lawsuit, filed in New York’s Supreme Court by attorney Stewart Lee Karlin, the girl — a successful student who has played the violin at Carnegie Hall — attended the Hewitt School for three years. When her father was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer, she began “acting out”; however, counseling helped her contend with his illness.

One day in math class, a classmate allegedly threatened to kill the girl, in front of their teacher, according to a copy of the court document obtained by Yahoo Lifestyle. The document alleges that when the girl asked her teacher for help, she was told to “just forget about it.”

On April 16, 2018, after a period of the alleged abuse, the girl asked the bully during recess why she was intimidating her and if she truly wanted to fight. The two didn’t fight each other; however, the school allegedly responded by expelling the girl who had been bullied (not the bully), which Karlin says is “an egregious and disproportionate response to standing up to another student who had continually threatened her and made her feel unsafe.”

The school also “showed a shockingly callous attitude toward [the girl], who was dealing with the imminent death of her father caused by a devastating illness.”

The expulsion and the school’s alleged lack of investigation into the conflict “was due to [the girl’s] national origin and religion,” says the lawsuit. “…It is clear that Hewitt’s administration had only been waiting for the opportunity to use even the slightest of infractions as a basis to expel [the girl].”

It’s not explicitly stated in the lawsuit how her national origin and religion contributed to her expulsion.

Karlin writes that Hewitt’s head of school, Tara Kinsey, promised the girl’s mother that her expulsion, and the details surrounding it, would be kept private; however, Kinsey reportedly told the seventh-grade class during a “special assembly” and emailed parents to communicate the matter (without mentioning the girl by name).

The girl has allegedly undergone “significant emotional trauma” and “psychological harm,” and the suit says Hewitt violated the Dignity for All Students Act (DASA) by not implementing anti-bullying policies and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) privacy laws by discussing the expulsion (while Hewitt did not mention the girl by name, many people reportedly knew she was expelled).

The lawsuit asks for at least $2 million in pain, suffering and damage to her reputation.

Karlin did not respond directly to Yahoo Lifestyle’s request for comment.

A school representative told Yahoo Lifestyle, “The Hewitt School stands behind the decisions we make and the actions we take to protect and preserve the teaching and learning environment for our girls and young women. Since the privacy of our community members is of paramount importance to Hewitt, we will not comment on this or any other student matter. At Hewitt, we are deeply committed to fostering a diverse and inclusive community. As our diversity and inclusivity statement clearly articulates: Hewitt empowers and expects our community members to embrace multiple points of view, to engage others with empathy and integrity, and to champion equity and justice in all areas of our lives.”

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