Petaluma City Schools removed from bullying lawsuit

The case, involving a video-recorded attack at Petaluma Middle School, is set for trial in July 2022.|

A former Petaluma Junior High School student’s bullying lawsuit against the student’s classmates, district and school is headed for trial next summer, but the case no longer involves school or district officials, according to court filings.

Petaluma City Schools was dismissed from the case Aug. 2, according to court records, joining a school resource officer and a former assistant principal who have also been dismissed after being named in the initial lawsuit, which was filed in late January.

The lawsuit now centers on the former students’ classmates, including the one she alleges attacked her two years ago in a video-recorded confrontation, as well as witnesses to that attack. The case is set for trial July 11, 2022, in U.S. District Court in San Francisco.

The girl, now 15, is represented by San Francisco-based attorney Paul Henry Nathan and Santa Rosa-based lawyer Brian Gearinger, and her mother was appointed a legal representative in the case. The Argus-Courier will not name the students, who were all minors at the time of the alleged confrontation.

In the initial lawsuit, filed Jan. 29, the former Petaluma Junior High School student alleges the attack and the wave of bullying that followed forced her into a remote learning environment and deprived her of equal access to education.

The girl’s lawsuit centers on a Feb. 4, 2019, incident at the end of a school day. As students in gym class gathered to talk about how the attacker was mad at the victim, the alleged attacker stalked back and forth on the other side of the courtyard, according to the lawsuit.

When the school bell rang, the lawsuit alleges, an attack from behind commenced.

“(The attacker) attacked (the victim) from behind, pulling (the victim’s) hair and beating (the victim’s) head into a concrete wall,” according to the lawsuit. “The attack was witnessed by a teacher or teachers at Petaluma Junior High School.”

The lawsuit alleges three other girls recorded the attack on their phones, later posting those videos to social media – a charge denied by one of the girls in subsequent legal filings.

The girl wouldn’t return to school for three days. And when she did, the lawsuit alleges, she was victimized again, with the other girls alternately making fun of her and intimidating her.

But claims against the public school district, as well as public employees alleged to have ignored the continued harassment and bullying, have dissipated with their dismissal from the case.

In subsequent legal filings, the school district argued the girl and her legal team failed to demonstrate the district or its representatives had broken the law, and that the district was exempt from lawsuits under the doctrine of sovereign immunity, which limits legal liability for government agencies engaged in work for the public.

Neither Petaluma City Schools, nor attorneys for the girl responded to requests for comment.

The motion to dismiss Petaluma City Schools, which was unchallenged by the former middle school student or her legal team, was filed under seal. Much of the legal record also remains under seal in an effort to protect the identities of the minors who were named in the initial lawsuit.

Although four initial defendants have been dismissed from the lawsuit, there are still 13 defendants listed in court records, including students and students’ parents.

A case management conference is set for Jan. 27, 2022, with a pretrial conference scheduled for June 29, 2022, ahead of the July 22, 2022, trial in San Francisco’s Northern District of California court.

Tyler Silvy is editor of the Petaluma Argus-Courier. Reach him at, 707-776-8458, or @tylersilvy on Twitter.

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