Months after special needs kids forced from NJ prom, one is suing
The mother of a recently graduated special needs student has filed a discrimination lawsuit against Hillsborough Board of Education, stemming from an incident at last school year’s Hillsborough High School Senior Prom.
Katherine Trusky's daughter, Lily Doyle, was forced to leave the prom early along with a group of her friends who all took a limousine together, according to the complaint filed Monday in Somerset County Superior Court.
School officials apologized two weeks after the students were removed from the event, calling the early dismissal an "unacceptable scenario" and "unfortunate mistake with heartbreaking ramifications.”
Doyle, who has Down syndrome, as well as her school friends and some neurotypical students were forced out of the prom early "based on the fact that some of them had developmental and/or intellectual disabilities," according to the complaint, which also said there was "a complete institutional failure at all levels of the Hillsborough School District" during and following the incident in May.
The lawsuit also names as defendants principal Karen Bingert and three district instructional aides, Pamela Figard, Kathy Reddan and Toni Marchick.
At least two of the high school's vice principals were in attendance at the prom and did not get involved in the incident involving adult aides and students, according to the complaint.
In a June news release, the Hillsborough Board of Education said that while personnel matters cannot be discussed due to state confidentiality law, “the Board wishes to make it clear that the administration is taking steps to ensure that this type of error will not happen again.”
The district said at the time parents had asked that their children leave the prom earlier but staff may have misinterpreted that to mean that all special-needs students had to leave before the end of the event at 11:30 p.m. The special-needs students were made to leave at 10:45 p.m. so that they would avoid the rush caused by other students who may have wanted to leave early at 11 p.m. This caused the special-needs students to miss the coronation of the prom king and queen, district officials acknowledged.
Administrators apologized in person to the students and parents involved, the school's statement at the time say said, while also adding the high school principal sent a letter that "reiterated this apology and the school’s staunch belief that their children deserved better, as well as offered a special activity to those students to remind them that they are valued members of the school family."
The office of the acting superintendent of schools, Lisa M. Antunes, did not immediately return a request for comment Monday.
Hillsborough Superintendent of Schools Jorden Schiff announced his resignation in September and retired effective Oct. 1.
The lawsuit is seeking "punitive damages, pre-and post-judgment interest, attorney’s fees and costs of suit and for such other relief that the Court deems equitable and just."
More from New Jersey 101.5: