Ferris State dismissed from federal lawsuit filed by family of Hope Academy student

GRAND RAPIDS — Ferris State University has been dropped from a federal lawsuit brought by the family of a girl who was raped after being suspended from a Grand Rapids school chartered by the university.

Ferris State originally was named in the suit, filed in July, along with Grand Rapids Department of Public Safety and Hope Academy, the charter school where the girl was enrolled as a student. Hope Academy Superintendent Heidi Cate, Principal Phillip Haack and an unnamed secretary also were listed as defendants in the suit.

The plaintiffs’s attorney, Joni Fixel, filed a notice of dismissal for Ferris State on Thursday in U.S. District Court in Grand Rapids.

In an e-mail to the Pioneer, Fixel said Ferris was dismissed from the suit because of its limited involvement with Hope Academy.

“We were able to dismiss Ferris State University after a discussion with their attorney about the Universities (sic) level of involvement with Hope Academy,” Fixel wrote. “The attorney was able to show that FSU was not/is not involved in the day-to-day operations or policy making for the Board of Directors of the academy or the operations of the academy.”

According to the complaint, on Jan. 23, 2012, the girl was suspended for the day for disruptive behavior in the classroom. A teacher called her parents to ask that she be picked up from school, but when her mother called back to ask where she was, the teacher informed her that the girl had left and “must have gotten a ride or something because she’s gone.”

The girl’s parents later learned that she had left Hope Academy’s campus and was picked up by a man who kidnapped and raped her and later took her to a party, where she was raped by several of his friends. She eventually escaped, but subsequent investigation of her case was mishandled by GRPD, according to her parents.

The plaintiffs hold the academy, police and listed faculty members responsible for what happened to the girl, who is described as “emotionally and educationally disabled,” diagnosed with bipolar disorder and having a fourth-grade-level IQ.

“We asked that we be dismissed from the lawsuit because we believe we were not an appropriate party to it,” said Shelly Armstrong, vice president of advancement and marketing for Ferris.

The remaining defendants have until Aug. 19 to enter response pleadings.

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Posted by Whitney Gronski-Buffa

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