Student razzed about Denver football jersey sues school district
Wednesday, January 17, 2007
By Tim Grant, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
One year after Joshua Vannoy made headlines for wearing a Denver Broncos jersey to school and was humiliated by his teacher because of it, the student has filed a lawsuit alleging that his rights were violated by staff and administrators in Big Beaver Falls Area School District.
Mr. Vannoy, 18, who has since moved to a high school in Lawrence County for his senior year, filed a civil action against his former school district, the high school principal, Thomas Karczewski, and his former teacher, John Kelly.
The lawsuit alleges that Mr. Kelly became abusive with Mr. Vannoy on Jan. 20, 2006, when Mr. Vannoy wore a No. 7 John Elway Broncos jersey to the Beaver County school two days before the AFC championship game between the Steelers and Denver Broncos.
When Mr. Vannoy showed up for Mr. Kelly's honors class in ethnic relations that day to take his 11th-grade midterm exam, Mr. Kelly ordered Mr. Vannoy to squat on the floor and instructed other students to wad up notebook paper and "throw it at the stinking Denver fan."
He was forced to complete his midterm on the floor.
"Plaintiff at this time was confused, upset, embarrassed and humiliated," the suit said, adding that "he was unable to leave the classroom because that would mean detention on Saturday."
Later that day, when Mr. Vannoy met with the school principal, Mr. Karczewski, to report what had happened, his reply was, "What do you want me to do about it?" the lawsuit says.
Media coverage of the incident led to threats from other students. Mr. Vannoy, an honors student with a 3.8 grade point average, missed four days of school out of concern for his safety.
Mr. Vannoy and his family had to uproot their lives and move "so as to be able to attend a different school district where he would be able to enjoy his senior year of high school free from fear of retaliation or ridicule from other students," the lawsuit says.
Donna Nugent, superintendent of Big Beaver Falls Area School District, said she had not been served with the lawsuit and could not comment on it.
Nick Frisk III, who represents Mr. Vannoy, said neither he nor the family will comment until a later date.
The suit asserts that Mr. Vannoy's jersey did not violate the school's dress code. Football jerseys had not been banned by either the administration or the school board and are not considered "disruptive of the education process."
Mr. Vannoy is seeking a declaration that the defendants violated his rights; damages in excess of $25,000; punitive damages against the individual defendants and attorney fees and court costs.
(Tim Grant can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1591. )