RENO, Nevada: A Muslim girl who said her complaints of bullying and death threats went unheeded by administrators at her Reno-area high school will receive $350,000 in a settlement with the school district, announced Wednesday.
Jana Elhifny, an American-Egyptian who wears a headscarf, dropped out of North Valleys High School in 2004. In a federal civil rights lawsuit, she said she was too frightened to attend school and that teachers and administrators did not take steps to stop the harassment.
Having a settlement is not better than having a normal education, Elhifny told The Associated Press when reached by telephone in Mahala, Egypt.
It s 2009. Things like that shouldn t happen, said Elhifny, who is married and has a 2-year-old son.
In a related settlement also announced Wednesday, Stephanie Hart, a non-Muslim who said she was ostracized and forced to leave school when she befriended Elhifny, will receive $50,000. The district also agreed to provide services for her to achieve a General Equivalency Diploma.
Ms Elhifny and Ms Hart had the courage to stand up for themselves and defend their right to a safe education, said Peter Obstler, a San Francisco attorney who handled the young women s lawsuits with the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada.
School district lawyer Robert Cox said the district welcomed resolution to the cases and praised what he called exemplary efforts by school staff and administrators in their professional and thorough handling of educational and personal issues raised by Elhifny.
The monetary awards will be paid by the district s insurance carrier.
Elhifny and her family came to Reno from Egypt in 2003. In her lawsuit filed in US District Court, she said other students spit and threw food at her, and threatened to kill her on Sept. 11, 2003 – exactly two years after the US terrorist attacks.
When she took her complaints to school officials, they told her she should expect the treatment and suggested she refrain from wearing her hijab, the lawsuit said.
I don t believe a district pays $400,000 if it believes it has no exposure, Obstler said, and added that no one was fired over the incidents.
It is the second student harassment settlement paid by the school district this decade.
In 2002, Derek Henkle received $451,000 to settle his discrimination suit that claimed the district failed to protect him from continued harassment because he is gay.
According to court documents, Henkle s harassment was so pervasive that, following the advice of principals, he transferred to three different area high schools from 1995 to 1997 before he finally dropped out.