Federal Court reinstates student athlete to Newburgh High School

The Times Herald Record, May 18, 2004

By Oliver Mackson, Times Herald-Record

White Plains – Elzie Coleman won one of his toughest races last night. A federal judge ordered the Newburgh School District to let the high-school senior and Olympic-class sprinter return to classes. Judge Stephen Robinson said that Coleman, 18, would suffer “immediate and irreparable harm,” including the loss of college scholarships, if the district continues to keep him out of school because of a fight last month at Newburgh Free Academy.

The judge also said lawyers for the district showed a “surprising” amount of anger toward Ben Ostrer, Michael Sussman and Michael Meth, the Orange County lawyers who took on Coleman’s case for free after he was suspended from school April 20. “We are thankful for the decision, and we’re hopeful that Elzie will have an opportunity to graduate with his class, and that his record at Newburgh will no longer be tarnished,” Ostrer said. Coleman is a 2004 Olympic hopeful who has set records in the 400-meter dash. The conduct of the district’s lawyers “causes this Court great concern as to whether or not the plaintiff could get a fair hearing from the [district,]” the judge wrote in his 10-page decision.

Beth Sims, a lawyer for the school district, declined to discuss the decision last night. She said she would discuss it with district officials today. The district says Coleman can graduate next month with his peers if he completes out-of-classroom tutoring. But he’s also been banned from competing for NFA since his suspension, and he has missed the prestigious Penn Relays and other important track meets. The judge wrote that Coleman is at risk of harm because he’s on track to graduate on time – and said he found “troubling” the school district’s “presumption that because [Coleman] is a gifted athlete he is only interested in athletics.”

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