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U.S. judge affirms Indian River’s position in discrimination lawsuit

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A federal judge has affirmed a decision favorable to Indian River Central School in a lawsuit brought by former students who claim they were subjected to anti-gay discrimination while attending school.

Former students Charles P. Pratt and his sister, Ashley E. Petranchuk, filed suit in U.S. District Court, Syracuse, in April 2009 alleging he was harassed, called names, physically assaulted and threatened for being gay before he dropped out of Indian River High School, Philadelphia, when he was 15 years old. He claims district officials were aware of the problems but deliberately refused to help him. He and his sister also said administrators shot down his attempts to form a Gay-Straight Alliance at the high school.

In November, U.S. Magistrate Judge Theresa Wiley Dancks ruled certain evidence the plaintiffs wanted to introduce was not relevant to the proceedings and disallowed the evidence. In the suit, Mr. Pratt has attempted to demonstrate the district was aware of a “hostile environment” at its high school for years before he arrived there but failed to address it.

Mr. Pratt sought through discovery to have incidents of alleged harassment that occurred before he was a student in the district, or before the 1993-94 school year, entered into evidence. He also sought to have claimed incidents that occurred while he was a student in the district from 1993 to October 2004, but in buildings other than the ones he attended.

The district fought the enlarged scope of the evidence being sought, arguing any alleged harassment that occurred before Mr. Pratt attended the school, or that may have occurred in buildings he was not in, was not relevant to his claims and was overly burdensome to obtain.

Judge Dancks agreed with the district, a decision Mr. Pratt and his sister appealed.

District Judge Glenn T. Suddaby has issued a ruling in which he upholds Judge Dancks’s findings, agreeing the evidence being sought is not relevant to Mr. Pratt’s hostile educational environment claims and Judge Dancks’s conclusions were “not clearly erroneous or contrary to law.”

The judge also has ordered the parties to take part in mediation Feb. 28, according to documents filed with the court Friday.

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