Former student files lawsuit against private school in La Jolla

By Joe Tash

A former student of La Jolla Country Day School has filed a lawsuit against the prestigious private academy alleging she was bullied relentlessly by fellow students and that school officials failed to stop the abuse despite repeated complaints.

Gizelle Studevent, whose lawsuit was filed Dec. 10 in San Diego Superior Court, is the second former student to file a lawsuit alleging bullying at the school in the past two years. Barbara Bagby also alleged she was bullied at the school in a lawsuit filed in April 2009. Both young women are represented by San Diego attorney Patricia Lewis.

According to the most recent lawsuit, Studevent, who is now 20, attended La Jolla Country Day from 2004 through 2007, when she transferred to Bishop’s school to escape the alleged harassment. At La Jolla Country Day, said the lawsuit, Studevent “was subjected to severe, pervasive and offensive sex and ethnicity harassment, bullying and retaliation by her peers…”

The lawsuit alleges that Roderick Jemison, upper school director, and other school officials were informed of the bullying, but that the complaints “fell on deaf ears. No one at Country Day tried to stop the bullying.”

When contacted, Lewis declined to comment on the lawsuits. Studevent now attends college out of state and could not be reached.

Chris Lavin, director of communications at La Jolla Country Day, said, “We deny vehemently that Ms. Bagby was ever bullied. And whatever problems Ms. Studevent had during her two years at the school were fully, immediately and aggressively addressed.”

The school, said Lavin, has an “aggressive program of character development. I can assure you that what these two families allege is not what life is like for the students who attend this institution. And the court proceedings will show that.”

“We see it as two families working in unison with the same attorney for the same monetary gains,” Lavin said.

Studevent’s lawsuit alleges intentional infliction of emotional distress, breach of contract and violation of Studevent’s civil rights, and seeks unspecified damages.

La Jolla Country Day School is located in San Diego’s Golden Triangle area, and has a student population of more than 1,100, ranging from pre-school through high school. According to the school website, tuition ranges from $22,000 for grades K-4, to $25,000 for grades 5 and up.

As a freshman, Studevent traveled with Country Day’s girls’ basketball team to Oakland for a tournament. When she arrived, she found a letter on top of her clothes addressed to “señorita,” and filled with racial slurs, including the statement that she should go to Mexico, according to the lawsuit.

Other incidents alleged in the lawsuit include profane notes taped to her locker, another letter mailed to her which included numerous racial slurs, plots to plant drugs in her backpack and a plot to poison her drink. Someone also put her name and facial likeness on pornographic photos on Internet websites, according to the lawsuit.

Studevent first went public with her allegations in a 2008 Los Angeles Times article. School officials told the newspaper that efforts to identify the perpetrators, including handwriting analysis of notes sent to Studevent and two other students, proved inconclusive. Law enforcement was also notified about the online bullying. Lavin confirmed the steps taken by the school to identify the students responsible for harassing Studevent.

Bagby’s lawsuit — which is scheduled for trial on March 18 before San Diego Superior Court Judge William Nevitt Jr. — also alleges a pattern of harassment by fellow students, and charges that school officials failed to address the problem.

Among Bagby’s allegations are that students vandalized her car, drove a car straight at her in a school parking lot, made threats against her over the Internet and put a dead rat in her locker.

In an interview shortly after Bagby’s lawsuit was filed in 2009, Christopher Schuck, La Jolla Country Day head of school, denied any wrongdoing by the school or its officials, although he declined to address Bagby’s specific allegations due to the lawsuit.

“The school stands strongly behind our actions in this matter. In no way were the steps that we took inappropriate,” Schuck said at the time.

According to court records, a motion for summary judgment filed by attorneys for the school — seeking a dismissal of the lawsuit — is scheduled for a Feb. 18 hearing before Judge Nevitt.

The motion filed by the school’s attorneys states that Bagby had a number of discipline issues during her time at the school, including stealing beer and drinking it during a school-sponsored trip to Ecuador, cheating on a chemistry test and yelling an obscenity at a parent from the opposing side during a school soccer game.

Following the alleged incident at the soccer game, the school asked Bagby to withdraw from attendance at Country Day, which she later did, according to the court document.

Bagby is now 18 and a college student. Through her family, she declined a request to be interviewed for this story.



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