By DANA DiFILIPPO
Philadelphia Daily News
Harsh words often lead to headlines, an Ohio congresswoman once said in a vow to not trash-talk her political enemies.
But Thomas DiPatri Jr. apparently has never heard those words of wisdom.
The English teacher at Cherry Hill High School West reportedly instructed his honors students to nickname a student "Handy Mandy" - in reference to her alleged sexual activity - prompting her outraged mother to file a federal civil-rights lawsuit earlier this month against DiPatri, the school board, the township and several unnamed students.
Melanie Singer alleges that her daughter, who also isn't named in the March 18 lawsuit, learned that DiPatri originated the nickname when she complained to her guidance counselor in January that students relentlessly called her "Handy Mandy," "slut," "whore" and other sexually derogatory slurs. "Handy Manny" is a Disney cartoon featuring a bilingual Latino handyman named Manny Garcia and his talking tools.
School staff told her to ignore the harassment, according to the lawsuit. The principal briefly suspended DiPatri for the name-calling but did not apologize or acknowledge the misconduct to the girl and her family, Singer contends in her lawsuit.
The torment worsened after DiPatri's suspension and "became so unbearable, that she was forced to leave school and receive home instruction per her pediatrician's advice," according to the lawsuit.
Singer contends the name-calling and the school's response are discriminatory and violate Title IX, a federal law that bars schools and other federally funded agencies from excluding anyone on the basis of gender.
She accuses the district of inadequate investigation and the student defendants of retaliation.
The family seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages for emotional distress, medical expenses, loss of reputation and personal injury.
Singer's attorney, Frances A. Hartman, couldn't be reached yesterday.
The school district is on spring break this week. DiPatri, district spokeswoman Susan Bastnagel, Superintendent David Campbell, School Board President Lisa Conn and Board Vice President Seth Klukoff couldn't be reached for comment.
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