Published April 08, 2009
A Nevada school district agreed to pay $400,000 to a Muslim girl and her friend over allegations that other students threatened to kill her in the stairwell for wearing a religious head scarf and the staff did nothing to stop it.
The Washoe County School District in the Reno area will give Egyptian former student Jana Elhifny $350,000 and her non-Muslim friend and supporter Stephanie Hart $50,000 as part of the civil settlement.
Elhifny and her family came to Reno from Egypt in 2003, and the girl enrolled as a freshman at North Valleys High School.
She didn't finish the year after she told teachers and administrators that someone had threatened to kill her in the stairwell because of her Muslim hijab or head scarf, the district's independent attorney in the case, Robert Cox, told FOXNews.com.
Shortly afterwards, Cox said, Elhifny filed the lawsuit and returned to Egypt, where she married her fiancé.
The lawsuit, handled by U.S. District Court in Reno, alleges that Elhifny faced death threats and harassment and school administrators did nothing to stop the abuse.
Cox said that wasn't true, and the teen was unable to give any description of her tormenter — including his or her gender, size and tone of voice.
He said the high school tried to investigate her claims but was unsuccessful because of the lack of information.
"The district did an incredibly thorough investigation," Cox told FOXNews.com in a phone interview. "They could never identify the person who perpetrated these acts. ... The district did everything it could do to try to help this young woman who is an Egyptian and of the Islam faith."
Cox said school officials couldn't confirm the stairwell death threat story.
"They tried to prove that, tried to track down who it was, but without a description ... that couldn't be done," he said. "The district did watch her constantly and had people in the hallway."
He said the settlement was agreed upon to end lengthy and "expensive litigation." The case has been fought in the courts for the past four years, according to Cox.
Lawyers for the girls praised them for their bravery in bringing the suit in a joint press released issued by counsel for both sides.
"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.
Hart, a non-Muslim who says she was ostracized when she befriended Elhifny at North Valleys High School and also dropped out, will receive $50,000. Cox said she was a supporter of Elhifny's rather than a victim and never complained to school officials before getting involved in the lawsuit.
The settlement was announced early Wednesday. The monetary award will be paid by the district's insurance carrier.
The district also agreed to work with lawyers on harassment and discrimination policies.
Attempts to reach Elhifny in Egypt and Hart, who now has a child and resides in California, weren't immediately successful.
FOXNews.com's Catherine Donaldson-Evans and The Associated Press contributed to this report.