Student faces attacks for reading Bible in Florida school, science teacher called him ‘ignorant’: lawsuit
A 14-year-old Christian student in Florida, who was allegedly told to stop taking his Bible to school after he was repeatedly attacked and bullied by students and teachers alike for his faith, has filed a lawsuit “seeking significant damages because the school has destroyed his educational experience.”
The Dhillon Law Group filed the 206-page lawsuit against Mater Academy, a public charter school in Hialeah Gardens, on behalf of Nicolas Ortiz through his parents, Rafael and Lourdes Ortiz, on Monday.
“Mr. Ortiz is experiencing something that no American should ever have to experience,” Dhillon Law Group managing partner, Harmeet K. Dhillon, said in a statement.
“It’s bad enough that the school has done nothing to stop the bullying from his peers, but have gone as far as joining in on targeting Mr. Ortiz for simply practicing his faith. This blatant violation of his first amendment rights is another example of how extreme so many in our education system have become, and why Dhillon Law Group is coming to Mr. Ortiz’s defense.”
The Christian Post reached out to Mater Academy for comment Thursday, but no one was immediately available.
According to the complaint, Ortiz, who is a high school freshman, began attending Mater Academy Cutler Bay in 2018 and remained enrolled until January 2022. During his time at the school, the teen would often take his Bible to school to read during his free time in a bid to further his faith, the suit states. However, many of his fellow students, school staff and administrators did not like it.
Several incidents detailed in the suit allege how hostile conditions became for Ortiz as he tried to live out his faith at the school.
“During a fall 2021 classroom discussion, Nicholas’ science teacher, Mr. Ardieta, singled out Nicholas in front of his peers and questioned him for believing in God. Mr. Ardieta insinuated that Nicholas was ignorant for believing in the Bible,” the suit said. “When Nicholas attempted to defend his beliefs, Mr. Ardieta cut him off and said, in front of the class and during the classroom discussion, Nicholas should not believe the Bible.”
Ortiz went on to experience similar attitudes toward his faith from students at the school who “regularly made disparaging comments” to him about what he believes.
“Students have threatened Nicholas publicly and privately with violence both in general and on account of his faith,” the lawsuit said.
Rafael and Lourdes Ortiz allege that they repeatedly complained to the school about the bullying of their son, but nothing was ever done to protect him. “On October 11, 2018, Mrs. Ortiz sent an email to the school notifying the school that, over the course of multiple days, students in Nicholas’ PE class had ‘threatened to hurt him,’” the lawsuit said. The students then exploited a personal relationship they had with the school's principal “to wrongfully accuse Nicholas to get him expelled and rallied other students to exclude Nicholas from class participation.”
Despite the complaint from Lourdes Ortiz, the lawsuit alleges that the school did not investigate her complaint, nor did they include the complaint in her son’s student file.
Nearly two months later, on Dec. 4, 2018, she sent another email to the school notifying them that her son was being bullied in math class.
“She stated that other children had told Nicholas that they were going to sacrifice him, were taunting him, and that they falsely accused Nicholas of having a knife in his bag,” the lawsuit adds.
In January 2019, Mrs. Ortiz emailed school administrators again after her son was falsely accused of taking a knife to school. By September that year, students began ripping his Bible.
“In September 2021, a group of students grabbed Nicholas’ Bible from him while he was reading it during his free time at school. These students started throwing the Bible back and forth, and then ripped pages off the book, sneering and ridiculing Nicholas for his faith,” the complaint said.
After the teen personally reported what happened, the lawsuit noted that: “In response to Nicholas’ September 2021 incident complaint that his Bible was vandalized and he was being bullied for his Christian faith, Vice Principal Polido ordered Nicholas to stop bringing his Bible to school.”
“Rather than taking necessary measures to ensure Nicholas was free to read his Bible at school during non-instructional time, the school’s solution was to deprive Nicholas of his constitutional right to read his Bible,” the complaint said.
On Oct. 18, 2021, Mrs. Ortiz alleged that a student threatened to beat up her son and kept bullying him over the course of multiple days. The student allegedly kicked the teen's iPad out of his hands during class that day. Ortiz responded by throwing his backpack at the aggressor and slapping his ear.
It was after this incident that the school decided to take action, not against the aggressor, but Ortiz. He was suspended for 10 days.
In December 2021, as public school shooting threats began circulating at several Miami Dade County public schools, the complaint said two students started a chat group on the social platform Discord where they “made false defamatory statements that Nicholas had made school shooting threats in the past, had threatened to shoot a fellow student that day, and that they should tell parents about the threat.”
The false information went so viral in the school community that even parents got involved in spreading the lies. The U.S. Department of Homeland security allegedly visited Ortiz's home and carried out an investigation based on the information, but determined the allegations were baseless.
When Rafael Ortiz reported to the school on Dec. 7, 2021, about what was happening to his son, the school told him his characterization of the events was inaccurate but refused to say what was inaccurate about his version of events.
A day later, on Dec. 8, 2021, the school informed him that his son was being suspended for 10 days for “disruption to the learning environment” despite evidence showing that his son was being framed and falsely accused.
When Ortiz requested a copy of his student file in January after his parents finally decided to move him from the school, “it contained defamatory, falsified, and fraudulent records.”
“The December 2021 suspension documents accuse Nicholas of multiple felony offense," the complaint said. "The statements are false and defamatory. Nicholas never made statements toward others. He never said he was going to shoot a kid or shoot the school. The school’s statements were made with malice and the express intent to harm Nicholas’ reputation.”
The complaint noted that “Nicholas and his parents suffered severe emotional, reputational and economic damages as a result.”
“Imagine being falsely accused of threatening to shoot up a school. Law enforcement concluded that he was being pranked by fellow students, but that did not stop numerous parents from spreading the false accusation online,” Dhillon Law Group partner, Matthew Sarelson, noted. “The students who spread the false accusations against Mr. Ortiz were never disciplined in any way. Only Mr. Ortiz was suspended, without due process and for no valid reason."