Lawsuit against Brunswick School Department remains an option for bullying victims
BRUNSWICK, Maine – A day after the Maine Human Rights Commission found reasonable grounds to determine that the Brunswick School Department had discriminated against a former high school student who had been bullied by other students for more than two years because of his perceived sexual orientation, the lawyer said on Tuesday that his family would be in a mediation process but could still sue the school district.
“They certainly have the right to sue,” said Courtney Beers, lawyer at Pine Tree Legal Assistance.
On Monday, the Maine Human Rights Commission voted 3 to 2 to confirm a report by commission investigator Victoria Ternig who concluded that the Brunswick School Department had discriminated against the anonymous student who was harassed and bullied from August 2010 to August 2012, The Forecaster reported.
Ternig wrote that the school department “allowed a hostile educational environment to persist for a long time” and that the student was discriminated against on the basis of his “perceived sexual orientation and gender”.
She wrote that the abuse against the student continued despite the school’s efforts to stop and prevent it.
Beers said in a statement Tuesday that “the most horrific offenses included physical assault, sexual touching and sexual assault.”
She said the boy and his mother had repeatedly reported the bullying and harassment to school staff, but felt the situation was “not being handled appropriately by the school administration. “.
“Ultimately, the minor was hospitalized and diagnosed with depression and post-traumatic stress disorder as a direct result of bullying and harassment,” she wrote. “The family felt that they had been forced to move to another city and the minor was transferred to another school district.”
In a statement provided by Beers, the boy’s mother wrote: ‘We are so grateful that the commission was able to distinguish fact from fiction and that they are prepared to do what the Brunswick School Department and the Police Department of Brunswick did not, namely to hold some of these officials to account. It is unfortunate that it took a complaint to the Maine Human Rights Commission to get the attention of the Superintendent’s office. My request for an appointment in his office was refused by his staff.
But Brunswick Superintendent of Schools Paul Perzanoski argued that administrators at Brunswick Junior High School took the complaints seriously and acted quickly.
The school created an intervention plan that required the boy to stay late or leave class early to avoid hallways crowded with students who could harass him, according to a Times Record report. The plan also called for the student to eat lunch in a classroom and use a private bathroom.
School officials say the student did not comply with their plan, according to the Times Record report.
Allegations that the boy was sexually assaulted by other students were investigated by Brunswick police and forwarded to the Cumberland County District Attorney’s Office, according to Captain Mark Waltz.
Waltz said Tuesday that the district attorney refused to press charges. He said it was forbidden by law to discuss the reasons why no charges had been laid.
Perzanoski and Greg Bartlett, the deputy superintendent, were on vacation Tuesday. Brunswick school board president Michele Joyce said no board member would discuss the matter until she conferred with Perzanoski. She forwarded a statement from the superintendent:
“We are extremely disappointed with the 3-2 vote today and strongly disagree with the decision,” Perzanoski wrote. “Contrary to the conclusion, Brunswick Junior High School took complaints seriously and responded quickly and decisively to respond to complaints that were brought to the school’s attention. … In his book “Youth Voice Project”, a well-known expert on the anti-bullying movement, Stan Davis, uses Brunswick Junior High School as an example of a school doing what it takes to solve this problem in Chapter 8. We will continue. to review our procedures and practices on this issue and also continue our school-wide assemblies, staff training and peer mediation. “
Stephanie Galeucia, who coordinates the bullying response for the Maine Department of Education, said Tuesday that she did not recall whether the department had been made aware of this particular case of bullying, but she said that schools were not required to report bullying cases until this year.
Galeucia said she couldn’t speak specifically about any case.
After Monday’s vote, the Commission on Human Rights, Family and School District have 90 days to attempt to resolve the matter through a mediation process, according to Amy Sneirson, executive director of the commission. .
If the matter is not resolved to the satisfaction of the commission, Sneirson said commission members could vote to bring a lawsuit against the district seeking remedies such as an injunction to end any discriminatory practice. or requiring additional training for teachers and students. The commission could also seek damages, although Sneirson said this was not typical.
“The objective of the commission in pursuing litigation is to remedy and prevent discrimination,” she said.