Cape High student sues school over remote learning

Federal suit seeks injunction to force changes to hybrid plan
September 4, 2020

A Cape Henlopen High School student has filed a federal lawsuit over the district’s hybrid learning program, arguing that students who go to classes two days a week get better instruction than students who are learning virtually.

The plaintiff, a minor going by the initials N.G. and represented by Wilmington attorney David Finger, claims in a complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Wilmington that the student’s mother’s health problems put her at a high risk if she were to contract COVID-19. To protect the mother’s health, the student must attend school remotely. 

Cape High has instituted a hybrid learning system, allowing students to attend either in person or online. The complaint says students are separated into three groups: Group 1 attends in person Monday and Tuesday and works remotely on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. Group 2 attends school on Thursday and Friday and learns remotely on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. Group 3 does not attend in person, but completes work remotely Monday through Friday. N.G. is in Group 3.

Under the Cape school district’s reopening plan, the district hired additional support staff to assist teachers with remote learning. According to the complaint, N.G.’s mother received an email Aug. 26 from the district stating that Wednesdays would be the dedicated Zoom learning day with their teachers.

Finger and his clients argue that in-person students have two days of teacher-led instruction, while remote students get only one. They argue that this puts remote learning students like N.G. at an educational disadvantage, and at a competitive disadvantage in regard to college admissions. 

In the complaint, N.G. and her mother contacted the school district and were informed that the district did not have sufficient teachers or staffing to provide equal teacher time to remote-learning students. Finger argues this violates Delaware law, stating that once a state like Delaware chooses to provide mandatory public education, the right to an education must be made available on equal terms. 

“Reducing by 50 percent the amount of teacher-led instruction of students learning remotely will cause permanent, devastating, irreparable harm – harm incapable of subsequent correction,” the complaint says. “Those students will receive an inferior education, psychologically damaging to their self-image, academically damaging to their opportunities for higher learning and economically damaging to their ability to perform in an adult world.”

Robert Fulton, superintendent of the Cape Henlopen School District, said it is the district’s practice not to comment on pending litigation.

Finger has requested a judgment in his clients’ favor, along with an injunction requiring the district provide equal time for teacher-led instruction.


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