A parent has sued Lake Travis ISD on behalf of her son months after she said two Lake Travis High School football players intentionally endangered him by placing peanuts in his belongings.

Shawna Mannon filed a federal lawsuit against the district on April 6, including Superintendent Paul Norton, Head Football Coach Hank Carter, and Lake Travis High School administrators. The lawsuit seeks $1.5 million and requests that the district improve its operations, training and policies to address the “disability-based harassment and bullying” experienced by Mannon’s son during and after the incident.

What’s happening?

Mannon said her son broke out in hives on Oct. 6 after two of his teammates on the LTHS varsity football team put peanuts in his athletic locker, cleats and uniform upon learning he had a life-threatening peanut allergy.

Her comments at a Nov. 15 board meeting resulted in multiple district investigations, in which the district determined bullying did not occur and criminal charges were not warranted, and a review by the Texas Education Agency. After filing a grievance with the district in December, Mannon’s son transferred to Leander ISD.

The recently-filed lawsuit states that LTISD failed to respond to “persistent disability-based harassment, bullying, and assaults” by Mannon’s son’s teammates which violated his rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and “endangered his life.”

The district did not appropriately discipline the students involved, created a hostile educational environment for Mannon’s son, and failed to train staff on how to address bullying and harassment experienced by students with disabilities, according to the lawsuit. The lawsuit also criticizes LTISD for not updating its food allergy policies from 2020 until after the incident in February.

In a statement to Community Impact, the district said it took “all allegations of bullying and harassment seriously.”

“We disagree with the allegations contained in the lawsuit, and we look forward to responding through the appropriate legal channels,” a statement from the district reads.

Mannon could not be reached for comment as of publication time.

How we got here

Following the incident, LTHS officials told Mannon the students would be disciplined by football department staff, who benched the students for two games, she said. District officials said they could not share how the students were disciplined due to federal privacy laws protecting minors.

“They said, ‘Oh, this is common practice. A lot of times the football department will hand out harsher discipline than we’re able to at the school,’ and that was concerning,” Mannon said in an interview with Community Impact.

After the Nov. 15 board meeting, the district opened an investigation into the incident to determine if bullying took place. The investigation, which closed on Dec. 8, determined the “legal elements of bullying were not met,” as state law defines bullying as “an act or pattern of acts that physically harms a student or materially and substantially disrupts the educational process,” said Marco Alvarado, LTISD executive director of communications and community relations.

Upon opening an investigation on Oct. 17, the district’s police department determined the incident did not warrant criminal charges and closed the case on Dec. 6, Alvarado said. Mannon said LTISD police were initially reluctant to look into the incident, which occurred on Oct. 6.

On Feb. 1, the Texas Education Agency concluded a review on the incident and “determined that the district had addressed all concerns with regard to potential bullying and food allergy compliance, and found no violations of law or policy,” Alvarado said.

Mannon filed a grievance with the district on Dec. 20, which the district responded to on Feb. 9, he said. While the district granted Mannon’s request to educate students on food allergies, it denied reevaluating its disciplinary response, she said.

Coverage of the incident escalated online and in the media while players and parents on the football team made it clear they did not want her son on the team, Mannon said. At a March 20 board of trustees meeting, several LTHS football players and parents said there was misinformation circulating around the incident.

Mannon’s son has since transferred to Leander ISD while her family has made plans to sell their home and move out of the district, she said. The move follows “six months of assault, harassment, and bullying based on his disability,” according to the lawsuit.

“We just made the decision as a family that it was time to move on and leave this behind us,” Mannon said.

Going forward

Moving forward, Mannon said she wants to partner with lobbyists to pass a new law protecting children like her son by making it a criminal act to weaponize food allergies. She hopes to change the definition of bullying to include non-visible effects, such as mental anguish, she said.

“It's just a matter of time. It's going to happen again to another kid somewhere, and I would much rather the law be prepared to handle this than to have to go through what we’ve been through in the past few months with no resolution,” Mannon said.