ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - Two families are suing Admiral Farragut Academy in St. Petersburg claiming the school did nothing to protect their children from physical abuse and racial harassment.
Two former students said in lawsuits that they were physically abused and called racial slurs while enrolled at the military school.
“They were being bullied for the color of their skin. They were also there on scholarship,” said attorney Marc Matthews of the McIntyre Tampa law firm, who represents the family involved in the first lawsuit filed this month.
The first lawsuit claims a girl entering seventh grade in August 2018 experienced “being hit and repeatedly pushed by male students” and “racial harassment.”
“It turned into physical bullying one day at recess, is my understanding. She was pushed down, hit her head, and ended up having a seizure or seizure-like activity that forced her to go to the hospital,” Matthews said.
He said her parents reported the problems, but the school did not do enough.
“They worked with the school, we worked with the school, spoke with representatives of the school to try to get this issue resolved, and it just never did. So, my clients left the school in May of 2019,” said Matthews.
Headmaster Robert J. Fine, Jr., president of Admiral Farragut Academy, said in a statement to FOX 13 of the first allegation: “The behavior described in these allegations goes against our core values and we took the matter very seriously when it was brought to our attention in the fall of 2018. When we subsequently investigated the allegations, we determined they were unsubstantiated. Since this is now a matter of pending litigation, we’re unable to comment further.”
FOX 13 shared the headmaster’s response with Matthews.
“They went through this process of assuring my client that it would be addressed. They went through the ambulance ride to the hospital. They’ve seen all of this. They’ve been there along the way,” said Matthews. “For them to say that it’s unsubstantiated is very disheartening.”
Tuesday, a second lawsuit was filed by the family of a former lacrosse player at the school.
The lawsuit states the boy’s teammates “called him the n-word and told him n-words were not allowed in lacrosse” and alleged the boy was “hit with fists, lacrosse sticks and other equipment.”
Regarding the second allegation, the school sent the following response:
“While we have not seen the complaint, this matter involves a student who was dismissed from Admiral Farragut Academy two years ago for violating our school’s code of conduct. Four months later, the student’s family contacted the St. Petersburg Police Department to allege that he had been bullied and hazed while he was a student here – allegations we had not been made aware of. We fully cooperated with the police investigation that followed. Officers from the department conducted interviews with several individuals here at the school but were unable to find any evidence supporting the student’s claims.”
Attorney Michele Rayner-Goolsby represents the boy’s family in the second lawsuit. Rayner-Goolsby told FOX 13 the boy was not dismissed but instead his parents withdrew him as a result of the bullying. She said her clients also received a check from the school following his withdrawal.
The school headmaster said bullying, discrimination and hazing allegations are serious, and any claims are rigorously investigated.
“This type of behavior is against our code of conduct and if we find that a student has violated that code, we take action to address the situation – up to and including expulsion,” said Fine of Admiral Farragut Academy. “We pride ourselves on the standards we set for our students. The values of fairness, honesty, and respect are part of everything we do and the behavior we expect of everyone here at our school.”
The attorneys for the families claim the school fostered a culture that allowed for bullying. Matthews and Rayner Goolsby said they’ve heard from other families and alumni since the lawsuits went public.
“It goes beyond my client. It goes beyond the other lawsuit that was filed. It goes deeper to this school needing to step up and do the right thing,” said Matthews.