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Category Archives: Bullying Lawsuit

More families suing over bullying

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Bullying victims and their families have increasingly turned to the legal system for recourse

Mike Wiser
Published: April 29 2012 | 3:10 pm – Updated: 3 April 2014 | 5:28 pm in

DES MOINES — In the days following her son’s suicide, Jeannie Chambers told a television reporter from Sioux City’s KITV that she wasn’t sure if she wanted charges filed against the classmates who bullied her boy.

Chambers’ son, Kenneth Weishuhn, was 14-years-old when he killed himself April 15. His death inspired rallies and candlelight vigils across the state and reignited a debate about bullying, responsibility and liability.

Chambers’ reason behind her indecisiveness seemed altruistic. She told the interviewer she didn’t want another mother to lose a child.

But bullying victims and their families have increasingly turned to the legal system for recourse. They’re going beyond pushing for criminal charges and civil penalties against bullies: they’re taking on school systems — and winning.

“In general, more of these types of lawsuits are being filed, and the courts are coming out with stronger opinions,” said Sam Wolfe, an attorney with the Southern Poverty Law Center who specializes in civil rights cases.

“There’s also an overall societal consciousness about bullying and the lawsuits in general, so that’s another reason why it could seem they are happening more frequently,” Wolfe said.

Deserved it

In 1994, Jamie Nabozny sued his Ashland, Wis., school district with the help of attorneys from Lambda Legal, claiming the district didn’t do enough to stop other students from harassing him because of his sexual orientation, despite pleas.

In one incident, Nabozny was beaten outside the school library by a group of students, causing internal bleeding that led to a hospital stay for the teen. When he reported the beating to a school official, according to court documents, “the school official supposedly in charge of disciplining, laughed and told Nabozny that Nabozny deserved such treatment because he is gay.”

In 1996, the federal appeals court overturned a lower court decision and found that the school district was liable in the case. The district offered an out-of-court $900,000 settlement, which Nabozny accepted.

It was a landmark case that gave advocacy groups a cudgel to use against non-responsive school districts.

Since then, actions have been brought against school districts in New York, Minnesota and California that resulted in them paying out hundreds of thousands of dollars and/or agreeing to additional staff training and policy changes.

“Lawsuits are a last resort in severe cases where school districts are not living up to their responsibilities,” Andy Mara, public relations manager for the New York-based Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, or GLSEN, said in an email statement. “But lawsuits indicate that the system is broken, and all parties have already lost in some sense.”

Going forward

Weishuhn was a student at South O’Brien High School in Paullina. School officials have been careful about talking publicly about his death even as the story has drawn national attention.

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Parent Files Lawsuit over School Bullying

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Claims 9-Year-Old Son with Medical Condition Suffered Harassment for Wearing Diapers to Class

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Liliana Alvarez, the mother of a 9-year-old Roosevelt Elementary School student, is suing the Santa Barbara Unified School District because administrators and school staff allegedly neglected to relocate her son to a new campus after he reportedly experienced several years of bullying, emotional abuse, harassment, and discrimination. Alvarez’s son has to wear diapers to school because he suffers from intestinal problems and lacks control over his urinary and bowel movements.

Alvarez became frustrated with Roosevelt after her son’s classmates discovered he wore diapers to kindergarten even though she intended for the information to be kept a secret, according to Alvarez’s lawyer, Matt Clarke with law firm Christman Kelley & Clarke. Kids teased her son at school and shouted things like, “Hey fat brown boy, you stink,” the legal filing reads. Alvarez’s son reportedly came home crying and said he did not want to return to school. Alvarez claims his teachers and school staff failed to intervene and, at times, escalated the problem.

In one incident in 2010, a school medical assistant repeatedly called the plaintiff to come and get her son — referred to as John Doe in legal filings — because he had soiled his pants. But when Alvarez arrived at the school, the court filing reads, school representatives told her that “it was just a mistake,” and that another child had passed gas near her son and yelled, “John Doe pooped in his pants!” As similar incidents continued to occur, Alvarez claims her son told her, “Nobody likes or wants me here in school,” and, “I want to kill myself.”

Alvarez said she eventually went to Superintendent Dave Cash to discuss the problem after claiming Roosevelt Principal Donna Ronzone shirked her duties and, the court filing states, “responded that Plaintiff should be the one taking care of John Doe; come to school with him, stay with him every minute, so that the children would not bully him.” Alvarez claims Cash said he would address the problem but that he and Assistant Superintendent Emilio Handall did not transfer her son to another school and instead simply moved him to a different classroom at Roosevelt.

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