The Calvert Board of Education has settled a lawsuit brought by a former student with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) who alleged he was forced out of Northern High School because of his disability, attorneys for both parties said.
Ryan T. McNulty, 20, will receive tens of thousands of dollars from the school system under the settlement, according to a person with knowledge of the agreement. The exact amount was not made public because of a non-disclosure clause in the settlement.
The lawsuit claimed that the school system violated the federal Americans With Disabilities Act by refusing to accommodate McNulty's disorder. He was expelled from the school in 1999 but graduated from Northern after he hired a lawyer who persuaded school officials to reinstate him.
School officials denied the allegations of discrimination. "There is absolutely no truth to any of those statements," said George Miller, the principal of Northern High and a defendant in the case. He and other school officials declined to comment further on the specific accusations.
McNulty said the cost of the dispute -- legal fees and tuition to attend a private school during his expulsion -- exhausted the $50,000 in his college fund.
"It screwed my whole life up," said McNulty, who is now a waiter in Fort Myers, Fla. "I had every kid's dream: go to high school, graduate, go to college."
He said he will use the money from the settlement to attend a firefighting academy.
The suit alleged that Miller and other administrators had a policy of trying to force students with disabilities out of Northern High. McNulty said Miller began targeting him as soon as he entered Northern in fall 1998. He said Miller and other administrators repeatedly suspended him without justification, fabricated accusations against him and treated students with disabilities differently from others.
"It was an abuse of power," McNulty said. "I think they got off on it."
McNulty's lawyer, Wayne Steedman of Baltimore, said he hopes the settlement will cause the school board to improve the way it treats students such as McNulty.
"They have to learn to better police some of their administrators so that they don't step all over students with disabilities," he said.
The case, filed in 2003, was dismissed by a federal judge this summer on constitutional grounds. U.S. District Judge Deborah K. Chasanow ruled July 8 that the school system could not be sued because it has "sovereign immunity" from prosecution under the 11th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
Steedman said he was in the process of appealing the decision when the school board agreed to settle the case last week.
Leslie Stellman, an attorney for the school board, said the legal fees for both sides would have been very expensive because the case deals with complex constitutional issues.
"We didn't think pursuing it would have been worthwhile for either side," he said. He emphasized that the school system is not admitting to any wrongdoing by agreeing to the settlement.
Letty McNulty, Ryan's mother, said she hopes the school system removes Miller from his position.
She said her son, who learned in second grade that he has ADHD, had been an honors student without disciplinary problems during middle school. She said Ryan was expelled from high school because of systematic discrimination against students with disabilities.