Muslim ‘fell in love’ with Catholicism, but bullies gave her PTSD
WOODBRIDGE — A Muslim girl whose Catholic school accidentally enrolled her in its religious curriculum ended up falling "in love” with the religion only to be left with nightmares, post-traumatic stress disorder and depression after years of bullying by some classmates and teachers, her parents claimed in a lawsuit that was thrown out this week.
The girl’s non-practicing Catholic father and Muslim mother enrolled her at Saint James School in Woodbridge in 2008. While the girl was supposed to start kindergarten in the non-Catholic curriculum, the school mistook her for a student with the same name enrolled in the religious classes.
Her parents later learned that she had been taking Catholic classes at the parochial school, something her father didn’t mind and that her mother, while she "didn't like it," "accepted it" because her "kid loved it,” according to a summary of the case provided in an appellate decision this month.
The girl maintained honor roll grades and the only negative comment she ever received on report cards was that she was “talkative.”
But a 2015 lawsuit that named the school, the Diocese of Metuchen, several educators and six former classmates as defendants, the parents said the girl’s love for her school was overshadowed by abusive behavior.
A Superior Court judge dismissed the case after defense attorneys pointed out that private schools are not subject to the state’s Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights Act and that the parent’s claims of negligence were not serious enough to outweigh the protections against lawsuits under the state Charitable Immunity Act.
The lawsuit said that over the years, beginning in fifth grade, the girl was called a “terrorist,” “the devil’s child” and “slut.” In one incident, three students kicked her and threw her carrots at her. In sixth grade, a boy pulled a chair from under her and another boy grabbed a ball and computer from her.
The lawsuit also says that her 2nd grade teacher stopped her from practicing for First Communion, telling her she was not Catholic. And that her 4th grade teacher told a priest not to give her ashes even though she had been receiving them every Ash Wednesday since kindergarten.
Three psychiatrists diagnosed the girl with PTSD and major depression, which they said was caused in part by events at school, according to records the parents provided in the lawsuit.
The litigation also revealed, however, that the girl’s father struggled with alcoholism, which the girl discussed with her therapist, and domestic violence.
In the end, the three-judge appellate panel was not persuaded by the parents’ case “because the record is bereft of evidence upon which a reasonable jury could conclude that St. James, the Diocese, or individual adult defendants acted with gross negligence, or intentionally or willfully acted, to harass, discriminate against, or bully” the girl.
The judges pointed out that the school repeatedly took action against the students who bullied the girl, including suspending some of them.
The appellate judges agreed with the lower court that the parents’ attorney failed to provide evidence that the school “willfully, wantonly, or intentionally violated any duty owed to plaintiffs.”
Sergio Bichao is deputy digital editor at New Jersey 101.5. Send him news tips: Call 609-359-5348 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.