Second lawsuit filed against La Jolla private school amid allegations of bullying

The San Diego French American School
The San Diego French American School in La Jolla is being sued by a second family over allegations of failing to address bullying.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

On the heels of a lawsuit filed nearly two months before, a second family has sued the San Diego French American School in La Jolla, alleging the family’s two children, in second and eighth grades at the school, were the victims of bullying and harassment by other SDFAS students.

The lawsuit also claims SDFAS, a private school for preschool through eighth grade with an annual tuition starting at $19,950, failed to investigate the family’s allegations or take action to address them. A court date in the case has been scheduled for Feb. 4.

The lawsuit, filed May 11 in San Diego County Superior Court, names SDFAS, Head of School Mark Rosenblum and the guardians of four students among the defendants. The La Jolla Light is not naming any of the families involved so as to not identify the children.

The suit seeks at least $25,000 in damages for each of eight causes of action, including breach of contract, assault and intentional infliction of emotional distress. A ninth cause of action seeks “relief as the court may deem proper,” along with “a preliminary and permanent injunction compelling SDFAS to investigate and address claims of bullying, assault and battery on the SDFAS campus.”

The younger of the plaintiffs’ children, a 7-year-old boy, “experienced and continues to experience incidents of bullying frequently and regularly” according to the lawsuit, including being “punched in the face” by another child in March.

The school took no action after the punch was reported, the lawsuit claims.

The lawsuit also states the punch was part of “ongoing harassment and bullying” over the course of the school year by other students against the child, who “remains emotionally traumatized” by the alleged incidences.

The lawsuit states that the school has not only “taken no disciplinary action” against the students who allegedly bullied the plaintiffs’ child, but also “has required [the plaintiffs’ child] to continue socializing with” them.

The boy’s mother told the Light that her son “started having panic attacks, being scared, hiding in the car” and experiencing depression.

The lawsuit states the child suffered “irreparable harm in the form of emotional distress, mental anguish, embarrassment, humiliation and anxiety.”

The older child, a 13-year-old girl, also experienced “ongoing harassment” throughout the school year, the lawsuit claims. That included “anti-Semitic bullying” on campus during school hours while students were still attending classes in person, and several alleged incidences that took place in October online via chat and social media platforms.

The girl’s parents and stepmother reportedly communicated with Rosenblum between October 2020 and April 2021 about their concerns. The school “took no disciplinary action against” any of the students allegedly carrying out the harassment, the lawsuit states.

SDFAS also “failed to investigate the aforementioned reported incidents of bullying against” the plaintiffs’ older child, according to the lawsuit.

As a result, the lawsuit claims, the girl suffered emotional distress, mental anguish, embarrassment, humiliation and anxiety and has suffered and “continues to suffer financially, including, but not limited to, medical expenses.”

“It’s been extremely difficult for her,” her stepmother said, adding that the eighth-grader “was scared to go to school. She had panic attacks.”

Both students switched from attending SDFAS in-person to the online-only curriculum by early May, the plaintiff said, and are still enrolled. The teen will be moving on to high school elsewhere; the plaintiff is unsure whether her son will continue in SDFAS the next school year.

The lawsuit also states “bullying has been and continued to be a pervasive problem throughout SDFAS and … its staff have engaged in a campaign of retaliation, victim-shaming and refused to address ongoing harm to their students.”

In response to the Light’s request for comment, Rosenblum shared a statement he sent to the SDFAS community June 3, which said the school plans to “fight these frivolous lawsuits.

“We take any allegation of bullying with the utmost of seriousness,” the statement reads. “We have successfully implemented effective disciplinary measures when warranted and we have supported affected children and their families.”

In the cases referenced in the lawsuits, Rosenblum’s letter continues, “we followed our own strict policies and procedures,” which include in-person and Zoom meetings, emails and calls with the plaintiff families. SDFAS has also held multiple staff meetings, “including convening our behavior response team.”

“Ultimately, these families did not like the outcomes of our investigations,” he wrote. “We will act in the best interest of our students and ... we would never condone an unsafe environment.”

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

The plaintiff said she hopes her lawsuit will “bring awareness about bullying. You don’t realize the extent and the effect that it will have until it happens to you. ... The school has a duty to protect our children, and it’s not being done.”

A similar case was filed against SDFAS on March 25, alleging that a 6-year-old former student of SDFAS suffered bullying and harassment at the hands of two classmates while at the school and that the private school failed to investigate or take disciplinary action. That case has a scheduled court date Sept. 24. ◆