MINNEAPOLIS (FOX 9) - The families of five students, who were expelled from Providence Academy following allegations of sexual assault at a house party in October 2022, have sued the school.
The lawsuit, filed in Hennepin County Court earlier this week, says the boys were discriminated against under Minnesota’s Human Rights Act. Additionally, the lawsuit alleges the boys were subject to arbitrary and unreasonable discipline as well as defamation.
The lawsuit says rumors started swirling around the school following a gathering at house where alcohol was consumed.
Following the gathering an allegation of sexual assault was made and five male students were expelled from school. The lawsuit adds that Providence gave the girls who were involved in the same conduct only one-day suspensions.
The families allege that instead of communicating the actual reason for the expulsion, the school perpetuated a false rumor that these boys were involved in a sexual assault. The families claim no sexual assault occurred and Providence did not complete any real investigation into the validity of the rumor.
The lawsuit claims these boys were then falsely labeled as rapists, were ridiculed, ostracized and this expulsion derailed their educational, athletic and professional futures.
In a statement, Providence Academy headmaster Todd Flanders said, "A year ago, some students were involved in serious violations of the school's policies. We stated correctly at the time that we took swift and decisive actions after our internal investigation. Should these matters go to trial, it would be unfortunate that the identities of the minors involved, whose identities we have not revealed, would be made public. It is disappointing to see the disheartening number of false accusations and statements in the lawsuits. We and our counsel find the lawsuits to be without merit, and we will fight the charges vigorously. Our priority is the education and safety of our students. As a values-based, Catholic institution, we believe all children are created in the image of God and we continue to pray for the students involved in this matter, their families and our community at large."
Court documents say there was a small gathering at a family’s house on October 14. Five boys and five girls, all 8th and 9th graders, were there. One of the girls was dating one of the boys and some of the high school students drank alcohol. The girlfriend of one of the boys stayed at the house after the other girls were picked up by their parents or guardians. The girlfriend and boyfriend, according the lawsuit, engaged in consensual physical activity and continued dating after the gathering.
The lawsuit goes on to allege that almost a month later, on November 9, a rumor surfaced at Providence Academy alleging a sexual assault took place during that October gathering. All four families claim that rumor had no truth to it. The families say the girlfriend, who stayed later than the other girls, insists the physical contact with her boyfriend was consensual. The families go on to claim the schools investigation only included asking other students, who had not been present that night, about the gathering. The families also allege Providence did not provide the expelled students, or their families, a chance to be heard or present evidence about the get together. Days later, on November 11, the students were expelled from Providence Academy.
The reason given for the expulsion, according to the lawsuit, was "involvement in the incident on the night of October 14 constitutes a most serious offense against Providence Academy’s Code and policies." The lawsuit then claims that the school did not assert it expelled the students for any reason related to physical contact between the girlfriend and boyfriend. Attorneys for the families say in the lawsuit the students were expelled for attending a gathering where underage drinking occurred.
The court filing goes on to say that the schools handbook and policies on alcohol and drugs prohibits students "from possession, use or being in the presence of anyone using, legally unauthorized… alcohol and if a student is "knowingly in the presence of the use of illegal… alcohol, even if not participating," the student "must remove themselves from the situation immediately". The policy, according to the lawsuit, goes on to say a first offense is subject to discipline including a conference with the School Director, a suspension for one to five days, a report to law enforcement and a chemical use evaluation. The policy states, according to the court filing, that only until there is a third offense may a student be subject to expulsion.
The students and families have three counts they are suing under. The first is sex/gender discrimination under the Minnesota Human Rights Act. The second is Arbitrary and Unreasonable Discipline – Common Law Negligence. The third is defamation, claiming Providence Academy’s statements have harmed the reputation of these students.