A DISCUSSION OF LAW AND JOURNALISM

Tag: private school

Telling Tales Out of (Private) School

By Sarah Berent

Drunk students, drunk teachers, nude photos, oh my! No, we’re not eavesdropping on the writers room of the CW’s Gossip Girl, but reading the legal complaint of Herbert Nass and Jodi Nass, who recently sued the exclusive Horace Mann prep school and some of its administrators for refusing to expunge their son’s suspension from his record for two million dollars(!) plus a refund of the school’s hefty tuition, $35,670. (Due to privacy concerns, his first name and the names of all other students involved in the incident leading to the suspension were omitted in the complaint). The Nasses’ 16-year-old son, we’ll call him Nass Jr., was disciplined for possessing nude pictures of a fellow female classmate on his computer. The pictures were discovered on an overnight field trip by other students while Nass Jr. was napping in another room.

The Nasses’ decision to sue Horace Mann was not an easy one, as both have a long and close relationship with the school.  Both parents are alumni, both held positions on the Alumni Council for the 2009-2010 school year, and Mr. Nash has stated that he had planned to leave the school a five-figure bequest.  They were proud to be associated with the school that counts ACLU co-founder Morris Leopold Ernst and former New York Times publisher Arthur Hays Sulzberger among its graduates.

The New York City private school community is famously tight-lipped and seldom generate negative publicity, making the Nasses’ lawsuit and their decision to sue and talk about it with The New York Times all the more surprising.  But Horace Mann has been involved in controversy about its student’s online activities before. In 2008, a New York Magazine article exposed Horace Mann’s frustrated attempts to censor student-made Facebook pages that cruelly mocked their teachers.

The Nasses claim their suit is about “fairness” while Horace Mann calls the legal action “an attempt to sanitize their child’s school record.” Although the Times neatly laid out the two sides of the dispute, the article failed to discuss the actual legal theory behind the lawsuit. Can the law really force a private school to expunge a student’s record or is this just a rich family’s attempt to bully the school with bad publicity? And what about those nude pictures? Can Nass Jr. be in trouble for possessing child pornography? (more…)

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