Dallas prep school wins legal battle over student's expulsion

The attorney for a Dallas family says a legal victory for the Episcopal School of Dallas set a dangerous precedent.

The family sued the school after their son was expelled. They lost and now worry about what it means for other families who try to hold a religious institution accountable.

The case hinges on the school's religious affiliation and how much protection it and other institutions like it will have moving forward.              

Dallas attorney Larry Friedman represents the family of the teen identified as “John Doe, Jr.” in the lawsuit. He was booted from the elite prep school in 2014 his junior year after he was accused of smoking pot off campus.

“This decision affects every student attending a religious private school in the state of Texas,” the lawyer said. “This particular young man had no disciplinary history with a clean record.”

The family sued the school for breach of contract for the expulsion claiming it did not follow its own disciplinary rules and procedures.

It all came down to Friday when the Texas Supreme Court upheld an appeals court ruling that tossed out the case. They said the school, as a religiously affiliated organization, was protected under the First Amendment and its internal disciplinary decisions could not be challenged.

“Basically gives the administrators at these religious schools carte blanche to do anything they want to any student knowing that they can never be held accountable for their actions,” Friedman said. “It's scary.”

The school argued in defense of its faith-based traditions and operations, but Friedman says there are much broader implications beyond his client's case.

The Austin-based Child-Friendly Faith Project released a video statement with the boy’s father whose face and voice are obscured. They also released a statement of its own.

“People who accept services from faith-based institutions in Texas, including schools but also possibly day care centers, nursing homes, hospitals and assisted living facilities now need to be very aware of this because there is no longer any incentive for those institutions to protect the people they are caring for,” the organization said in a statement.

“What we are concerned about is that if parents don’t have the right to sue a school when they suspect that there's been harm or neglect or certainly abuse or neglect, then those children are incredibly vulnerable,” said Janet Heimlich, founder of the Child-Friendly Faith Project.

“Hopefully in the next few days, we'll figure out where to go,” Friedman said. “This family is not willing to let it go. They want justice.”