Sidwell Student Fails to Have Her Case Heard by the Supreme Court

In the wake of the national college admission scandal and the departure of their entire college counseling staff, Sidwell Friends School again finds itself in the midst of a college admission controversy. A former student sued the school, alleging discrimination that undermined her chances for college admission. The DC Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court, however, have rejected her appeal.

Dayo Adetu and her parents, Titilayo and Nike Adetu, said the private school breached a settlement with the family after it allegedly discriminated against Adetu by purposefully grading her more harshly than her peers. Adetu claimed Sidwell breached the settlement by tampering with her college admissions.

“Sidwell has long been perceived as a ‘feeder-school’ to Ivy League institutions and other top universities,” Adetu wrote in the Supreme Court petition. Adetu, however, was not offered unconditional acceptance from any university during her initial round of applications.

Adetu applied to Princeton, Yale, Harvard, Columbia, Cornell, Penn, Duke, Johns Hopkins, CalTech, MIT, UVA, McGill and Spelman. She “was the only student in her graduating class of 126 students who did not receive unconditional acceptance from any educational institution to which she applied,” according to Adetu’s Supreme Court petition. 

Adetu attended Sidwell from 2000 until her high school graduation in 2014. In her junior year, she and her parents filed a claim with the D.C. Office of Human Rights (DCOHR), alleging discrimination and retaliation, mainly related to her math classes. This complaint was filed only two years after Dayo’s older sister Lola had also filed a discrimination claim against Sidwell to the DCOHR. 

Dayo Adetu’s complaint specifically accused math teachers of allegedly using “biased, improper scoring” to grade Adetu’s tests in her sophomore and junior year and one math teacher of having “steadfastly refused” to make accommodations for her athletic commitments while doing so for other students.

According to Adetu’s petition to the U.S. Supreme Court, “As the Parents advocated against discriminatory or retaliatory treatment of Dayo, the retaliation intensified.” 

Allegedly, during a meeting, the Head of School, Thomas Farquhar, angrily blurted out, “All of the teachers want the Adetus gone, gone, gone from the School,” and that “non-retaliation [against Dayo] is now off the table.”

Sidwell and the Adetus then entered into a settlement agreement that dictated the school would pay the Adetus $50,000, recalculate Adetu’s grades in Math II and Calculus and not retaliate against Adetu.

After Adetu’s senior year at Sidwell and no offers for unconditional acceptance from the thirteen universities she applied to, the Adetus filed a complaint to the D.C. Superior Court. They alleged that Sidwell had breached the settlement by failing “in good faith” to timely recompute Dayo’s Math II and Calculus grades and by failing to timely provide the mandated written explanations for the grade changes. 

The D.C. Superior Court ruled against Adetu, finding that she “cited no evidence that Sidwell made negative comments about her or otherwise interfered with her college admissions process, beyond Adetu’s own speculation” and that there was no meaningful breach of the settlement.

Adetu appealed to the D.C. Court of Appeals, which also ruled in favor of Sidwell, finding that Adetu had failed to show “any adverse action taken by Sidwell” in the college admission process. 

Adetu again appealed, this time to the U.S. Supreme Court. However, on June 17, the Supreme Court rejected the appeal without comment. 

Will Olsen ’21

Sign up for our weekly newsletter!Current GDS high school students and teachers receive the newsletter automatically.