Lawsuits and Deliberate Indifference
Schools and school leaders are not exempt from the litigious society we live in. Therefore, all school personnel must be equipped to take appropriate actions when they know or should know about events of harassment, intimidation, bullying, cyberbullying, sexual assault, etc.
Recent settlements and pending lawsuits are establishing precedents school leaders should take very seriously to prevent devastating harm to their school’s bottom line, reputation and the community too.
For example, the town of South Hadley (Massachusetts) paid $225,000 to the parents of Phoebe Prince (who committed suicide after being bullied by classmates). This settlement did not include legal fees incurred when six former classmates were charged in connection with Phoebe’s treatment at school. More recently, the Emerson Board of Education (New Jersey) settled a lawsuit brought by a former student who said bullying linked to his perceived sexual orientation over a six-year period was ignored by school administrators. The student will receive $130,000 from the Bergen County School District.
A pending lawsuit filed by the mother of Seth Walsh (who committed suicide after being bullied by classmates) against the Tehachapi Unified School District (TUSD) is one all school leaders should be watching closely. The lawsuit was filed using the results of a federal investigation by the Department of Justice and Department of Education that found TUSD “failed to act in an appropriate manner” even though the school was aware of the harassment towards Seth Walsh. Our greatest opportunities often occur during times of adversity, and making a difference for student safety will not happen until status quo approaches, excuses and acts of deliberate indifference are eliminated. Can your school afford a legal settlement of $130,000, $225,000 or more?