A recent case out of the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas demonstrates just how costly the failure to respond to bullying can be.
In the case of Juanita J. W. v. School District of Philadelphia, the Court awarded a student who was the victim of bullying that was not properly addressed by the school district $500,000 for the significant injuries sustained by the student, plus attorney’s fees and costs.
In Juanita J. W., it was found that the student was taunted, bullied, and harassed while at three different schools in the district over the course of close to nine years. The student was called names, physically assaulted, subject to sexualized name calling, and was hit several times.
The student and her parent reported these incidents, many of which were related to the student’s gender presentation, to school officials. However, while the school had a policy in place to address student bullying, it did not have a process to implement that policy and the district made little to no effort to remedy these issues.
As a result of the bullying, the student suffered panic attacks, physical harm, and psychological harm and the evidence showed that the student will likely continue to suffer from these conditions in the years to come.
The Parent brought suit under the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, an anti-discrimination statute, and it appears this is the first time that a Pennsylvania Court has recognized a claim for student on student bullying and harassment under that statute.
The Court found that the district failed to properly respond to bullying of the student that was due to her gender presentation, and awarded damages.
Bottom Line for Schools
This case demonstrates the need for school districts to have policies in place to respond to student on student harassment, ensure there are mechanisms in place to implement those policies, and to make sure that such policies are implemented with fidelity.
In addition, school entities need to ensure that their employees understand such policies and know what to do when a parent or student reports bullying or harassment. The Juanita J.W. case outlines the emotional and physical cost to students and the financial costs to districts for failing to take such actions and for failing to respond to bullying.
If you have any questions, please contact your legal counsel or one of the education attorneys at KingSpry.
This School Law Bullet is a publication of the KingSpry Education Law Practice Group. John E. Freund is our editor. It is meant to be informational and does not constitute legal advice.