News, October 2019

Friends’ Central School in Wynnewood, Pa. Photo by Google Street View.

Lawsuit moves forward against Friends’ Central School

On August 2, federal judge Petrese B. Tucker ruled that four of the six accusations made in a lawsuit against Friends’ Central School (FCS) may move forward. The suit was filed in May 2017 by two former FCS teachers, Ariel Eure and Layla Helwa, against Friends’ Central, a pre-K–12 Quaker school in Wynnewood, Pa. FCS had moved to have the whole lawsuit dismissed in July 2017.

In the suit, Eure, a gay African American woman, and Helwa, a gay Muslim woman of Egyptian and Puerto Rican descent, alleged that Friends’ Central did not treat them in the same way as their peers. The lawsuit claims their “suspension, firing and retaliation were in no way comparable to the transgressions of others who happened to be white employees who clearly ignored directives and were never placed on administrative leave, let alone fired and publicly maligned.”

The issue originated in February 2017 when Sa’ed Atshan, a Palestinian Quaker professor at Swarthmore College in Swarthmore, Pa., had been invited to address the Peace and Equality in Palestine student club. FCS canceled Atshan’s appearance after reportedly receiving complaints from several school parents. That prompted student protests against the administration’s decision. Eure and Helwa joined the protests as club advisers, claiming administrators never instructed them otherwise. But FCS claimed insubordination. (See the FJ Apr. 2017 News column for more details on these events.)

“From the outset, we stated this complaint lacked merit and believe that an objective review of the facts will find that the remaining claims are equally meritless,” said Dee Spagnuolo, attorney for the school. “Friends’ Central does not intend to litigate the teachers’ claims publicly. . . . Throughout the events in question, the school engaged in thorough and thoughtful Quaker decision making. The school remains committed to building and maintaining an inclusive and diverse community, delivering an education that is intellectual, thoughtful and respects a wide range of viewpoints and experiences.”

Mark Schwartz, the lawyer for the plaintiffs, is happy that some claims from the suit are moving forward. “I am pleased that the judge has refused to dismiss the case, overwhelmingly reaffirming what was pled. It takes a certain special arrogance for a school, with the professed values that FCS says it maintains, to claim that it is not subject to the civil rights laws,” Schwartz said.

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