A Catholic school principal wrote a letter to the parents of eighth-graders about a student not returning to their school, and she asked them to pray for the child.
Naming the student in the letter, it turns out, was also asking for trouble.
The student’s parents have filed a $750,000 defamation lawsuit against Mary Queen of Angels Regional Catholic School in Cheektowaga and the principal, saying the letter led to “a scandalous smear campaign carried out by the eighth-grade parents.”
The student, who attended the school until Dec. 2, 2011, has unspecified medical issues that “occasioned certain behavior at school,” according to the State Supreme Court lawsuit.
The principal on Dec. 5, 2011, “discharged her from the school” and sent a letter to the parents of eighth-graders about “this young lady’s discharge,” the lawsuit said.
“The school intimated that she was untrustworthy and unable to attend this Catholic school in an ordinary academic setting and that there was some special school that she needed to attend based on her character and fitness,” according to the lawsuit.
The Buffalo News is not identifying the child because of her age and medical issues.
So what did Mary Queen of Angels Principal MaryAlice Bagwell write?
“Mary Queen of Angels Catholic School is no longer able to meet the educational needs of [student’s full name]. Msgr. Kevin and I feel that [student’s first name] needs an educational setting that can serve her more effectively than Mary Queen of Angels. We ask that you please keep [student’s first name] and the [student’s last name] family in your prayers,” she wrote, according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit does not identify the full name of the monsignor mentioned in the letter.
Monsignor Kevin T. O’Neill served as canonical administrator of Mary Queen of Angels in 2011, according to a Catholic Diocese of Buffalo publication.
“There is no merit to the lawsuit, and a motion to dismiss has been filed,” diocesan spokesman Kevin A. Keenan said in an emailed statement.
State Supreme Court Justice Diane Devlin is scheduled to hear the dismissal motion Feb. 14.
Michael J. Stachowski, a lawyer who represents the parents, declined to discuss the case but said more troubling facts will be revealed as the case progresses.
On Dec. 21, the student’s mother received a text message from a school parent at a school basketball game who overheard other adults speculating about why the girl left the school, according to the lawsuit.
The speculation included talk of sex, drugs and punching the principal.
“This letter prompted the parents of other students to talk … and placed credence on scandalous, false rumors,” according to the lawsuit.
“While the school knew of the medical reasons for [her] conduct, the letter … resulted in a scandalous campaign carried out by the eighth-grade parents,” according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit mentioned – without providing details – an incident in which police were called to the school during school hours to escort her out of a room “when she was merely sitting in the hallway having a medical and emotional incident,” according to the lawsuit.
During the fall of 2011, the student had “various health problems which occasioned some episodes of behavior at the school,” according to the lawsuit.
The student attended the school regularly and achieved “satisfactory academic performance,” the lawsuit said.
The student’s parents did not give the school their permission to send the letter to the other school parents, according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit, filed in the Erie County Clerk’s Office on Dec. 4, said the child has been held up to “public contempt, disgrace and ridicule and has suffered great mental pain and anguish.”
The parents’ reputations, too, have been gravely impaired, according to the lawsuit.
The parents are seeking $250,000 in actual damages and $500,000 in punitive damages, according to the lawsuit.