Anders Hemdal, a junior at Schuylkill Valley High School in Leesport, Pa., has filed a federal civil rights suit against the district, claiming he was unfairly issued a four-day suspension after a classmate secretly videotaped him having sex with his then-girlfriend during a school trip to Morocco last April.
Hemdal, who was a sophomore at the time of the incident, had consensual sex with his girlfriend of two years in a Casablanca hotel room during the final night of their 10-day trip with the high school Spanish club, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. Unbeknownst to them, another student recorded the couple with a cell phone and shared the footage with other students.
Hemdal, 16, and his girlfriend were made aware of the tape a couple days later and subjected to bullying and other manners of humiliation. Hemdal told his parents about the recording, who informed school officials and asked for assistance in stopping the taunting and harassment, according to the Courthouse News Service. Instead, all three students were slapped with four-day suspensions for inappropriate behavior.
The AP reports that the student behavior slip Hemdal signed for the trip acknowledges sexual activity is grounds for being sent home.The suit contends, however, that only sexual activity on school property is prohibited according to the school’s code of conduct.
It also claims that the district acted illegally by denying him his rights to a disciplinary hearing, defamed him and violated his privacy by notifying other district employees about the video and mentioning Hemdal and his then-girlfriend by name.
"It was devastating for all of us," mother Stephanie Hemdal told the Inquirer, adding that both families entered counseling and expressed concern for the kind of distress that led to the 2010 suicide of Rutgers University student Tyler Clementi after his roommate secretly recorded him physically involved with another man. Stephanie Hemdal also told the paper that while Anders could have made better choices by not having sex on a school trip, the students believed they were in a private setting in the hotel room and didn't commit a crime.
The suit was filed against Schuylkill Valley School District, then-Superintendent Solomon Lausch, Principal David Haughney and Assistant Principal Joshua Kuehner. The Hemdals are seeking to have their son’s four-day suspension erased from his record, and for the district and other defendants to compensate the family for legal fees and damages, reports the Reading Eagle.
A school district spokesperson told the Inquirer Friday the superintendent could not comment because district officials had not seen the complaint.
Meanwhile, the student who filmed the couple and circulated the video is facing charges in Berks County Juvenile Court.
In March, a drug and alcohol counselor at Salinas High School in California was accused of secretly filming students having sexual encounters with one another in his office. Gilbert Olivares pleaded not guilty to 19 charges ranging from possession of child pornography to performing a lewd act upon a child. He faces up to 15 years in prison if convicted.