RENO " A Muslim girl who said her complaints of bullying and death threats went unheeded by administrators at her Reno-area high school will receive $350,000 in a settlement with the Washoe County School District announced Wednesday.
Jana Elhifny, an American-Egyptian who openly displayed her Islamic faith and wore a religious headscarf, dropped out of North Valleys High School in 2004. In a federal civil rights lawsuit, she said she was too frightened to attend school and that teachers and administrators did not take steps to stop the harassment.
In a related settlement also announced Wednesday, Stephanie Hart, a non-Muslim who said she was ostracized and forced to leave school when she befriended Elhifny, will receive $50,000. The district also agreed to provide services for her to achieve a General Equivalency Diploma.
The monetary awards will be paid by the district's insurance carrier.
Elhifny and her family came to Reno from Egypt in 2003. In her lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court, she said other students spit and threw food at her, and threatened to kill her on Sept. 11, 2003 " exactly two years after the U.S. terrorist attacks.
When she took her complaints to school officials, they told her she should "expect" the treatment and suggested she refrain from wearing her hijab, the lawsuit said.
"Ms. Elhifny and Ms. Hart had the courage to stand up for themselves and defend their right to a safe education," said Peter Obstler, a San Francisco attorney who handled the young women's lawsuits with the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada.
School district lawyer Robert Cox said the district welcomed resolution to the cases and praised what he called "exemplary efforts" by school staff and administrators in their "professional and thorough handling of educational and personal issues" raised by Elhifny.
Under the settlement, the district also agreed to work with lawyers on harassment and discrimination policies.