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THOMAS v. DAVIDSON ACADEMY

February 4, 1994

AMY THOMAS, by and through her mother and next friend, JANICE THOMAS
v.
DAVIDSON ACADEMY



The opinion of the court was delivered by: JOHN T. NIXON

 On February 1, 1994, the Court held a consolidated trial and hearing pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 65(a)(2) on plaintiff's application for a preliminary injunction in the above-styled matter. Upon the evidence presented and argument of counsel, the Court makes the following Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law, in accordance with Fed. R. Civ. P. 52 and 65(d).

 I. FINDINGS OF FACT

 1. Plaintiff Amy Thomas is a seventeen-year-old senior at Davidson Academy. Miss Thomas has attended Davidson Academy continuously since she was in the first grade and has fulfilled her academic requirements satisfactorily. She has participated on the basketball, track, and softball teams, and was voted "wittiest" in her senior class. Her school record reflects that prior to the 1993-94 school year she sustained one disciplinary sanction, in the fall of 1992, for disrespectful behavior. She is expected to graduate at the end of the Spring 1994 semester, and plans to attend Western Kentucky University.

 2. Defendant Davidson Academy is a Tennessee corporation which operates a private elementary and secondary school in Nashville, Tennessee. Davidson Academy is not affiliated with any particular church or religious organization. Davidson Academy is approved by the Tennessee Department of Education and is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. Davidson Academy participates in at least three federally-funded programs. *fn1" In order to receive federal funds, Davidson Academy has provided written assurance that it is in compliance with Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. § 794. Davidson Academy sponsors out-of-state trips for its students for both educational and extracurricular activities, and provides transportation and faculty for such trips.

 3. In November, 1993, Miss Thomas began experiencing severe bleeding from her cervical area and sought medical treatment. Miss Thomas was hospitalized on November 17, 1993, due to a dangerously low platelet count of only 3,000 platelets per microliter of blood. The range in a normal platelet count is between 150,000 and 400,000 platelets per microliter of blood. An individual with a platelet count of 3,000 is at risk for spontaneous hemorrhaging. During Miss Thomas' hospitalization, she was diagnosed with idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura ["ITP"].

 4. ITP is a serious autoimmune disease, affecting the hemic or blood system, wherein the immune system develops antibodies to and destroys its own platelets. A person with ITP is susceptible to life-threatening bleeding or hemorrhaging and must take great care to avoid, and promptly attend to, even seemingly minor physical traumas that are a part of daily life. ITP is not contagious.

 5. During Miss Thomas' hospitalization commencing on November 17, Miss Thomas received two treatments of intravenous gamma globulin which raised her platelet count to 12,000 by the time she was released after a four-day stay. Two days after her release, however, Miss Thomas began suffering from a nose bleed. After being taken to a doctor, it was determined that Miss Thomas' platelet count had fallen to 10,000. She was readmitted to the hospital and treated with steroids and other medical therapies. When such treatments failed to control her condition, Miss Thomas underwent surgery on November 30, 1993, to remove her spleen. Ms. Thomas' spleen was removed in an effort to halt the destruction of platelets by Miss Thomas' own immune system. During this time, Miss Thomas missed several weeks of classes at Davidson Academy. She returned to school on December 8, 1993.

 6. As a result of her ITP, Miss Thomas must visit her physician, pediatric hematologist Dr. James Gay, on a weekly basis to check her platelet count. She also regularly receives follow-up treatment from her surgeon. Miss Thomas must take penicillin, iron supplements, and other prescription medications to prevent routine infections, anemia, and bleeding which could result in serious injury or death. On occasion, Miss Thomas has also been required to receive additional treatments of intravenous gamma globulin.

 7. On January 5, 1994, Miss Thomas visited Dr. Gay for her weekly platelet count. Although Miss Thomas' platelet count had risen to the normal range after her surgery, it was falling again and had dropped to a level below the normal range. Miss Thomas was advised and aware of her falling platelet count. In addition, Miss Thomas was again experiencing severe bleeding from her cervical area, at a time when such bleeding should not occur. Dr. Gay has reported that a person suffering from ITP can experience a rapid reduction in the platelet count overnight.

 8. Davidson Academy had been informed about Miss Thomas' condition during or soon after her November, 1993, hospitalizations and surgery. According to Mr. Art Mayernick, principal of Davidson Academy, he knew and was "worried" about Miss Thomas' condition. Similarly, Mr. Bill Chaney, the headmaster at Davidson Academy, reported that he was aware that Miss Thomas had been in the hospital and had a serious medical condition. Furthermore, Mr. Chaney noted that her medical condition was "well-known."

 10. After wrapping her finger in a tissue, Miss Thomas went to the school office. At the office, she saw Mrs. Becky LeGate, the Student Life Coordinator at Davidson Academy. According to Mrs. LeGate, Miss Thomas was still crying and visibly upset, and Mrs. LeGate described her reaction as "hysterical." Mrs. LeGate requested Miss Thomas' authorization to call her mother, Ms. Janice Thomas, but Miss Thomas stated that she did not want to cause her mother to become upset. Mrs. LeGate notified the school nurse, Mrs. Nancy Scott, who arrived soon after. Mrs. LeGate then left the office, after being summoned to attend to other business.

 11. While extremely agitated, Miss Thomas informed Mrs. Scott that she has ITP, and tried to convey to her the severity of her condition. Mrs. Scott attempted to place a gauze bandage on Miss Thomas' finger, but Miss Thomas expressed fear that the treatment might hurt her. Although Mrs. Scott noted the absence of any significant amount of blood, Mrs. Scott determined that the wound might require stitches and that Miss Thomas needed to be seen by a physician. Nevertheless, Mrs. Scott told Miss Thomas that the cut was not so bad and that she was not going to bleed to death. According to Mrs. Scott, in her experience, "All it takes is a comment to make an excited patient more excited." However, in response to Mrs. Scott's statements about her injury, Miss Thomas became very excited and was noncooperative. In addition, Miss Thomas uttered two expletives.

 12. Miss Thomas told Mrs. Scott that she wanted to call her mother, and started to leave the office to go to the pay phone in the hallway. Mrs. Scott instructed Miss Thomas to remain in the office. Miss Thomas remained in the office and called her mother from the telephone therein. Miss Thomas was extremely agitated. According to Mrs. Scott, her contact with Miss Thomas lasted about ten (10) minutes, but that she felt at her "wit's end." Mrs. Scott noted that she had never experienced anything like it.

 13. While Miss Thomas used the telephone, Mrs. Scott called Mr. Art Mayernick, principal of Davidson Academy. According to Mrs. Scott, she believed Mr. Mayernick's presence might calm Miss Thomas. When Mr. Mayernick arrived, he found Miss Thomas agitated and resistant to all efforts to calm and console her. Miss Thomas was speaking to her mother, and reported to her mother that no one at school understood how badly she was hurt.

 14. When Mr. Mayernick finally spoke to Miss Thomas' mother, Miss Thomas was demanding to leave the office and return to class. Given that school was already ending for the day due to weather conditions, it was decided that Miss Thomas should be released from the office to take herself home.

 15. On the following Monday, January 10, 1994, Miss Thomas returned to school. Miss Thomas learned later that morning that a meeting would be held in the early afternoon with the principal, Mr. Mayernick. Miss Thomas, Mr. Mayernick, and Miss Thomas' mother attended the meeting. Mr. Mayernick expressed concern about Miss Thomas' behavior on the previous Friday, January 7, 1994. Miss Thomas and Ms. Thomas attempted to explain that Miss Thomas' was suffering from ITP, that her platelet count was falling, and that she was accordingly hysterical after she cut herself on January 7, 1994. Mr. Mayernick advised them that he did not believe Miss Thomas' ITP had any bearing on her behavior on that previous Friday. According to Mr. Mayernick, he became further concerned with Miss Thomas' attitude when she failed to express remorse at the meeting for her behavior on January 7. Mr. Mayernick indicated he was inclined to recommend that Miss Thomas withdraw from Davidson Academy at the end of the first semester of the 1993-94 year. Ms. Thomas requested that Mr. Mayernick reconsider his decision, and he agreed to do so and contact her the following day.

 16. On Tuesday, January 11, 1994, Miss Thomas went to Mr. Mayernick's office and apologized for the January 7, 1994, incident. At that time, Mr. Mayernick had already called Ms. Thomas and told her that his decision remained the same, and that Miss Thomas would not be permitted to remain at Davidson Academy after the end of the first semester of the 1993-94 school year. Miss Thomas expressed that she had not apologized sooner because she had not realized how serious the problem was. Mr. Mayernick responded that he did not believe her apology was sincere. However, after Miss Thomas pleaded with him to allow her to remain at the school and offered that she "would do anything," Mr. Mayernick offered three possible alternatives to expulsion: taking away her driving privileges, taking away any exam exemptions she had earned as a result of maintaining an A average, and taking away her privilege of participating in extracurricular activities. When Miss Thomas expressed some reservations about these alternatives, Mr. Mayernick reminded her that she had said she would do anything, and Miss Thomas accepted his alternatives. ...


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