La Jolla’s French American School is sued over allegations of failing to act against bullying

A lawsuit by a former student's family accuses the San Diego French American School of failing to address bullying.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

A family’s lawsuit alleges that a 6-year-old student at the San Diego French American School in La Jolla suffered bullying and harassment at the hands of two classmates and that the private school failed to investigate or take disciplinary action.

The lawsuit, filed March 25 in San Diego County Superior Court, names SDFAS, Head of School Mark Rosenblum and the families of the classmates among the defendants and seeks at least $25,000 in damages for each of eight causes of action, including breach of contract, negligent supervision and emotional distress.

The La Jolla Light is not naming the families involved so as to not identify the children.

The 6-year-old’s parents pulled him out of the school on April 2, the child’s mother told the Light.

San Diego French American offers a bilingual education program and serves preschool through eighth grade.

The suit alleges that the boy, who had been enrolled at the school since 2016, was first bullied in September, when two classmates punched him in the stomach and called him “stupid.”

The child informed the teacher on duty at the time, but the school took “no disciplinary action,” according to the lawsuit.

The harassment continued three more times in October, with the same children “hitting, kicking and taunting him,” the suit alleges.

On each occasion, the child reported the bullying to the teacher, but no disciplinary action was taken, according to the suit.

The child’s parents filed a formal complaint with Rosenblum in mid-October and filed a second when the harassment continued at the end of October, the lawsuit states.

“SDFAS has failed to investigate the ... reported incidents of bullying,” the lawsuit alleges.

Rosenblum told the Light that “any insinuation or allegation that SDFAS does not take student conduct seriously or address concerns of students or parents is absolutely false, and the facts strongly support the school’s position that it handled the situation at issue appropriately.”

“The safety of our students as well as of our faculty and staff is of the utmost of importance to us,” Rosenblum said. “Since our school’s founding more than three decades ago, we have built a community of students, faculty, staff, parents and alumni who continually demonstrate mutual respect, dignity, empathy and compassion. Our commitment to those values is a key element that defines us as an institution.”

The boy’s parents wrote to the SDFAS board in December calling for Rosenblum’s resignation over his “failure to address the ongoing bullying.” The lawsuit claims the board “failed to take any action.”

On March 5, Rosenblum emailed the child’s parents, declining to re-enroll him for the following school year because they had “prevented a positive or constructive relationship” with the school, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit claims this was “in retaliation against the parents.”

Rosenblum declined to comment on the family’s specific claims “due to privacy concerns and ongoing litigation,” but he said “there are rare times when SDFAS leadership must make difficult decisions regarding student enrollment. Those decisions can involve prospective students or current students and are based on a variety of factors, including parent and student alignment with the school’s mission and core values, academic performance, conduct and the likelihood of success at SDFAS.”

“The school must always act in the overall best interests of the institution, its students and its faculty and staff and not simply in the interests of any one student or family,” Rosenblum said.

The suit claims the child was again “verbally harassed” by the same classmates on March 12, again without disciplinary action.

The boy “continues to suffer severe and irreparable harm,” such as anxiety and emotional distress, the lawsuit states, and the family continues to “suffer financially,” including the cost of counseling and therapy.

Rosenblum said the school has “detailed policies and procedures in place to address any student or parent concerns regarding a conduct issue.”

The policies regarding bullying “were developed in consultation between administrators and faculty and are in line with best practices of independent private schools nationwide,” Rosenblum said. “Whenever an allegation of misconduct by a student is brought forward, it is immediately addressed and, if appropriate, our behavioral response team is activated for involvement. When necessary, the school takes appropriate corrective measures.”

The plaintiff’s attorney, Michaele Gonzalez, said the lawsuit is proceeding in civil court rather than as a criminal complaint because “we have 6-year-olds involved.”

Gonzalez said the lawsuit aims to make “it more about the parents’ actions and the adult actions in the circumstances,” adding that the parents “knew their children have these characteristics that made them threats to other children at the school and they didn’t do anything about it.”

The parents named as defendants in the suit could not immediately be reached for comment.

The boy’s mother declined to say whether she tried to contact the classmates’ parents.

“Being a victim of bullying on a child can have lifelong effects on a person’s self-esteem and mental health,” she said. “We want people to stand up and speak out, and we all want as parents to drop our kids off at school and for them to be in a safe environment every day when they walk behind those gates.”

Rosenblum said the SDFAS “board of trustees and school leadership are very confident that we have handled this matter properly and consistently with the school’s policies and procedures, and it is our sincere hope that this process will conclude quickly.”

A court date in the case has been scheduled for Sept. 24. ◆