A gay man is suing Pressman Academy of Temple Beth Am, claiming the Conservative Jewish day school discriminated against his 8-year-old daughter because of his sexual orientation.
The suit refers to the man only as “John Doe,” a single, Israeli-born man whose two daughters, referred to as “Jane Doe 1” and “Jane Doe 2,” were enrolled at Pressman Academy until the end of the 2016-17 school year.
Filed Sept. 20 in Los Angeles Superior Court, it alleges that Pressman teachers and administrators “failed to address the bullying that Jane Doe 1 was subjected to because she has no mother.” It says a teacher at the school insisted on “informing everyone in the class that Jane Doe 1 was different,” even after the student asked her not to. The suit alleges civil rights violations, fraudulent business practices and infliction of emotional distress, asking for an unspecified amount in damages.
The first hearing in the case is scheduled for Dec. 20.
Adam Wasserman, the attorney for the plaintiff, declined to comment on the case.
Erica Rothblum, head of school at Pressman Academy, said in an emailed statement to the Journal, “While we cannot comment on the specifics of the lawsuit, it is important that everyone know that we are a school committed to the physical and emotional safety of our students.”
She added, “We are a community that embraces diversity, and we remain an inclusive community for LGBTQ students and families. Our commitment includes a life skills class in our middle school that explicitly teaches about sexuality and identity, as well as an active partnership with Keshet, a national organization that works for full LGBTQ equality and inclusion in Jewish life.”
The 47-page complaint alleges that Pressman Academy, a preschool through eighth-grade day school operated by Temple Beth Am on La Cienega Boulevard, engaged in false advertising by selling itself as a “warm embracing community” that “balances a rigorous academic education with social, emotional and spiritual learning.” It claims other students teased Jane Doe 1 by calling her an orphan, pushing a chair into her, circulating rumors about her and, at one point, putting thorns on her pillow.
“The inaction by the faculty and staff at Pressman sent a direct message to the students that tortured, taunted, physically, and verbally abused Jane Doe 1, ‘that this behavior is acceptable at Pressman,’ ” the suit alleges.
After a school therapist learned Jane Doe 1 and her younger sister were the daughters of a single gay man, “everything began to get progressively worse,” according to the suit. Allegedly, a teacher announced to a third-grade class that “Jane Doe 1’s family is different,” and Jane Doe 1 was discouraged from attending a Mother’s Day event.
As a result of this treatment, the suit claims, “Jane Doe 1 became severely depressed and talked to her tutor about wanting to kill herself; she isolated herself socially and would not play with other children at recess because they picked on her; she would lock herself in rooms because she felt safer alone than with other students, staff, and teachers.”
Eventually, according to the suit, a Pressman Academy counselor told John Doe it would be better if he withdrew his daughter and sent her to a local Reform day school.
At the advice of a third-party therapist, John Doe withdrew his daughters from Pressman Academy, according to the suit. Jane Doe 1 had attended the school for six years.
In her statement, Rothblum, the head of school, painted a very different picture from the one in the complaint, describing the school as a place where “everyone should feel safe and comfortable to tell a teacher, counselor or administrator” if they encounter bullying. “Those adults will then take prompt and effective action,” she wrote.
She added, “Pressman Academy is a community of support and engagement, and we are invested in the well-being of our children and our families.”