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Lake Travis football parent sues district over peanut allergy incident

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The family of former Lake Travis High School football player Carter Mannon has filed a lawsuit against the school district, alleging that officials failed to handle an incident last fall in accordance with bullying and discrimination laws after two One of Mannon's teammates stuffed his gear and shoes with peanuts a year ago in a game last fall.

In the lawsuit, the family claims the district took no action to prevent bullying against their son and that teammates knew Mannon had a severe allergy to peanut products. The lawsuit was filed Saturday by Shawna Mannon, Carter's mother.

“There is no rhyme or reason to the timing (of the complaint),” she told the American-Statesman on Tuesday. “We had exhausted our resources. We had done our due diligence. We are taking the legal route because we didn’t get what we wanted.”

The October incident that started it all

The October 5 incident attracted widespread attention and outrage in the community.

Shawna Mannon testified at a school board meeting in November that her son was bullied by two players on the Cavaliers football team. At the time of the incident, head coach and athletic director Hank Carter suspended the players for two games, a punishment that some parents felt was too lenient.

The district later decided the incident did not meet the “legal definition” of bullying, the lawsuit says.

Named as defendants are Carter, Lake Travis High School principal Paul Norton, Lake Travis High School principal Debbie Garinger and assistant principal Sandy Surdy. The Statesman reached out to the defendants on Tuesday for comment.

The Lake Travis district takes allegations of bullying and harassment seriously, it said in a statement.

“We responded immediately upon learning of this situation and conducted a thorough investigation,” the district’s statement said. “We disagree with the allegations contained in the lawsuit and look forward to responding through the appropriate legal channels. The safety of our students and staff is our top priority.”

The family wants to see changes made at LTISD

The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas, seeks $1.5 million in damages. The lawsuit also asks that a judge force the school district to conduct training for staff and students on disability harassment, adopt policies for handling student complaints of disability discrimination, and change programs to “increase participation to prevent unconstitutional and illegal actions. “

The lawsuit alleges the district failed to follow state laws to stop ongoing bullying, combat cyberbullying or appropriately discipline the students involved.

The lawsuit also alleges that the district did not investigate the incident until after Shawna Mannon's testimony before the panel in November and that the investigation reached an “incorrect conclusion” that “simply contradicts the legal definition of bullying.”

Carter Mannon, who recently transferred to Vandegrift, “experienced persistent harassment, bullying and attacks from teammates due to his disability due to his life-threatening peanut allergies, with one perpetrator describing the acts as 'attempted murder,'” the lawsuit says.

“Despite (Carter Mannon's) efforts to seek help from school officials, LTISD has shown a willful indifference to the ongoing bullying, failing to intervene or provide accommodations, properly supervise students and staff, or take the disciplinary measures required by law for students who do so to commit and enforce violations. ” the lawsuit says.

According to Shawna Mannon, her son told his teammates he could die from exposure to peanut products. He developed hives on one arm but was able to play in a game that night.

How food allergies are classified by the U.S. Department of Education

On Tuesday, Shawna Mannon said this wasn't the first time her son had been exposed to peanuts at school. When Carter Mannon was a freshman, he bit into a peanut cookie. It was labeled “Big Cookie” but had no ingredient list or barcode.

According to Shawna Mannon, her son went into anaphylactic shock. He felt his airways constrict. He ran to the nurses' station and was given an EpiPen before being taken in an ambulance to a nearby hospital.

In March, several students on the soccer team said at a school board meeting that they believed no bullying had occurred and that Carter Mannon did not need medical attention after finding peanuts in his locker.

The U.S. Department of Education classifies food allergies as a disability under Section 504 if the allergy limits one or more of a student's major life activities, such as walking, breathing, or learning. Section 504 is a federal designation that protects people from discrimination based on their disabilities and requires schools to provide free and appropriate public education.

Carter Mannon has been admitted to Vandegrift for two years.