What Is So Special About This Lawsuit Against The Frederick Gunn School?
Unlike the spate of lawsuits leveled against Connecticut private boarding schools, this particular lawsuit initiated by a then 18-year-old former player on the Frederick Gunn School football team contains no alleged sexual abuse — or other hot button issues. That’s why the suit is not front page news. (Sadly, the school did make headlines when its dean was jailed for sexually abusing four students in 2011).
This lawsuit pertains to an incident that took place during the last football game of the 2019 season. Noah Greenberg, then a senior and co-captain of the football team at The Frederick Gunn School (formerly known as The Gunnery), was on the field at the end of the first quarter that November 9th. Trailing by an alarming 40 points, and concerned about his safety and that of his teammates, Greenberg suggested a play change to Head Coach Steve Gritti, who generally had solicited feedback from player, especially captains.
“What we are doing is just not working,” Noah said. Gritti responded by telling the student to “take off your damn pads!” He then added: “You’re done!”
With adrenaline flowing and shocked at the benching, Noah uttered an expletive at the coach. He was eventually returned to the game late in the fourth quarter — but the curse word launched a chain of events that ultimately lead to his expulsion six days later, based on a 5-1 vote in a kangaroo court called a “Disciplinary Committee.” It came in the middle of his academically critical senior year and amid his college application process.
It did not matter to this “court” that Noah had hit his boiling point after tolerating an escalating onslaught of derision over three years from the coach — which included insults like “bitch,” “stupid, and “idiot” and “moron,” and sentiments like “you’ll never be a success in life.” In addition, the coach mocked Greenberg by repeatedly referring to him as “Goldberg.” This treatment was especially difficult for a kid diagnosed with learning disabilities.
I should know, I am Noah’s father.
I can still remember vividly the day years ago when my son asked my wife and me: “Do you think I’m stupid?”
He was nearing the end of the 3rd grade and we had just told him earlier in the day that he would be transferring to a special education school for kids with “learning differences.”
Seven years later, when he was accepted by “The Gunnery” (aka, The Frederick Gunn School) and mainstreamed at an elite boarding school, we were all elated. But Noah’s path to this dream school was not easy.
In Middle School we received confirmation that he suffers from a language processing disorder – a form of dyslexia. The Stephen Gaynor School welcomed Noah with open arms and he ultimately thrived there through the 8th grade — despite ups and downs. He had lingering doubts when he compared himself to “normal” or “smart” kids at other schools because he was placed with the kids who had ADD and other learning disabilities.
Noah displayed a competitive but sometimes impetuous nature; perhaps a little too eager to be the first with answers to teachers’ questions or to scramble for the loose ball on the basketball court, sometimes he found himself admonished for being too loud. But he also enjoyed too many sleepovers with buddies to count.
At the Frederick Gunn school, the Dean of Admissions told me that my son would need to repeat the 10th grade and also take a multi-day battery of neuropsychological tests – to even be considered for admission, and then if accepted, would also need to attend the school’s “learning center” several times a week. Noah wanted the opportunity so badly that he was willing to adhere to those severe conditions despite our hesitations. His persistence paid off and he got the coveted admission letter. It was one of the happiest days for Noah and our entire family.
And at the Gunnery, he eventually blossomed, and although he played three sports, football was the sport he was most passionate about and talented at.
The first year required some adjustments to the new environment. He struggled to make his bed or tie his tie correctly. He had to adjust to early morning hours and occasionally showed up to class a few minutes after the bell and was cited for other infractions that outsiders considered trivial. Eventually, despite earlier griping about excessive discipline very common to boarding school kids, he acclimated to the strict environment and found his stride. In the fall of his senior year he was thriving; being named co-captain of the team, selected as a school tour guide, placing number one in a stock-picking contest in his economics class, and receiving all As and Bs. Socially, in spite of his strong will and big personality, he was generally well-liked by his peers and teachers.
All of this came to an abrupt end on November 15th.
Two days earlier, Noah donned his jacket and tie for an 8:00 PM appearance before the Disciplinary Committee, which consisted of three students and three faculty members. (Had we known that 9 out of 10 kids were expelled that year after facing this archaic hearing, we likely would have advised against this appearance). It was a humiliating experience, which included a berating from fellow students. “Don’t you think you should be seeing a psychologist?” “Tell us what you’ve done to deserve us allowing you to continue to be a part of our community?”
(Making matters worse was the “support” of his advisor – editing Noah’s statement as to why he should be permitted to remain at school and coaching/coercing him on what to say. The whole charade felt like a real life hazing scene from the film School Ties — to make the irony even more complete, the producer of that film, Dick Wolf, attended the Gunnery decades earlier.)
The head of The Gunnery school Peter Becker called me earlier that evening to tell me that any decision from the “DC” was ultimately at his discretion. He assured me that he knew that Noah is a good kid and that he had his own issues with the coach which he said he’d deal with separately.
And yet, in less than 24 hours, he called me back to say that he accepted and supported the decision to expel Noah. I was totally blindsided and literally begged Becker to meet right away in person and have him reconsider, keep draconian punishment that would let Noah graduate with his friends. With my wife in tears and outraged the head of a school would be so heartless, especially given Noah’s background and progress, we made our case. Becker said he would sleep on it. An expulsion letter arrived the following morning, on November 15th – the day that early college applications were due.
That afternoon Noah packed up his dorm room, his fellow students shell-shocked and his college prospects in danger.
Despite being advised by others to walk away, Noah decided to file a lawsuit against Frederick Gunn the next month, and hasn’t backed down since – even as the school’s nonstop almost two year campaign to discredit him.
The Gunnery filed a motion to dismiss right away, arguing it had a constitutional right “not to associate” with students it throws out of school. The motion included a litany of The Gunnery’s alleged past dissatisfactions with Noah, which the school lumped into a category it described as “negative or disruptive behavior.” The school unearthed Noah’s every potential slight, however minor, and in more cases than not more perceived than real.
Maybe you heard that the United States Supreme Court recently held that a public school had no right to micromanage and punish a cheerleader swearing about her school on social media. But what about the swearing football player who was kicked out of school because of a word he uttered on the sidelines of a game? Can private schools continue to write their own rules, especially when they apply them inconsistently and capriciously? Trial is set for this coming spring.
Noah has always been a fighter, but he paid a heavy price for what the school did to him.
He retreated from gregarious into isolation in our basement. Football was taken from him, along with a prestigious diploma he had worked hard for, and many friends from the Gunnery were ghosting him. Other parents, with a few notable exceptions, stayed away, fearful of expulsions and tainting their own kids by association. Noah finished up his education at a local public school, and took a job at a food store bagging groceries and became a frontline worker during Covid.
The college application process was made more challenging by The Frederick Gunn School’s vindictive refusal to release his official transcripts in time for application deadlines. They also never released his teachers’ college recommendations. As discovered later via court order, these were glowing reviews which could have changed his fate.
Noah was eventually accepted to a good liberal arts school in Ohio, but the lingering effects of the expulsion remained. When his beloved grandmother died of Covid in January, Noah was reluctant to return to college after her funeral. But he did, and despite the brutal period he endured he made new friends, and is excelling academically and athletically as he starts his sophomore year.
Meanwhile, The Frederick Gunn school is doubling down and dialing it up in what can only be called a character assassination campaign. In court filings, they accused Noah of “sexism, classism and ageism” for referring to a cafeteria worker as a “nice elderly lady” in a petition asking for second helpings.
When we went down this path, we did not imagine that 22 months later they would still be kicking Noah below the belt. They have fabricated incidents, made mind-blowing exaggerations, lied under oath, and continue to try to shame Noah and our family in the public domain.
Preppy boarding schools have great resources and a relentless desire to fight off lawsuits that could tarnish their reputation. The Frederick Gunn school has done this before: they “crisis managed” the sexual abuse scandal and lawsuit, and some argue that the school’s name change was itself a gambit to distance themselves from the incident.
They try to bleed any plaintiff dry in legal fees. They try to kill stories in the media. They wrote and called other families at the school to compel them to not speak to us or our lawyers. They also engaged in what some read as thinly veiled anti-Semitism‘ referring to my wife and me in writing as being like “two bulls in a china shop.” We are not the only ones that have been seriously harmed by the school. This summer we were one of six families who jointly wrote to the school’s board of directors of our gut-wrenching disappointment that the school we once loved had lost its way. We argued that it needs new leadership after becoming a punitive institution where obsessive discipline has displaced understanding and compassion, where teachable moments have gone by the wayside, and where arrogance, hypocrisy and self-righteousness have become dominant.
“…Under Mr. Becker’s leadership, the school has increasingly been transformed into an institution that preaches tolerance but in reality is highly intolerant, claims to value independent thinking yet squashes freedom of expression and different personality types, asserts the ideal of education while opting for punitive discipline,” we wrote. “Mr. Becker has emotionally and psychologically damaged countless students, including our children, through heartless cruelty and deceit.”
The letter came from two African American families, two Jewish American families, one Italian American and white gentile family. Two of the signatories were MDs. The school has ignored the letter.
We’re taking this legal action to fight for justice for our son and so that other families don’t have to endure this nightmare. People should realize that these days many private schools will betray their children with lightning speed if something goes wrong. We’re concerned that this case might make Noah cynical and bitter, yet he carries on. He is bolstered by many others and the many depositions and affidavits supporting him — despite the school’s efforts to intimidate the community. Recently, I was contacted by a current parent at the school, a total stranger to me and my family, who quietly applauded our efforts and shuddered at the prospect of sending her kid back to this dangerous environment, but worried about retribution if her sentiments were exposed.
I want to give you a front row seat as our story progresses and you’ll see the reality of being a whistleblower. While it thankfully doesn’t involve violence, drugs, sex or racism, Noah’s case can illustrate how some private schools are allowed to traumatize the very students they’ve been entrusted to teach.