(Rochester, N.Y.) – A family has filed a federal lawsuit against the Fairport Central School District, claiming school officials did not do enough to stop bullying.
The lawsuit, filed on behalf of parents who are only identified by their initials in court papers, seeks $1 million in damages. Their son was a student first at Martha Brown Middle School, then at Johanna Perrin, where he transferred because of the alleged bullying.
The court papers describe “persistent peer-to-peer bullying, including sexual harassment.”
In one example, the boy claims he “attempted to stow his violin in his orchestra locker, two lacrosse players approached him and one jammed a lacrosse stick into (his) buttocks.”
The lawsuit refers to numerous meetings between the boy’s parents and school staff, but the bullying allegedly continued and the boy was emotionally and physically distressed. The lawsuit says the district had the attitude of “boys will be boys.”
"This is an issue of national concern. The problem could have been easily addressed. They had plenty of time to address this. Earlier in the year we filed a notice of claim. The only remedy was a lawsuit. This poor kid was agonized," said the family's attorney, Jeff Wicks. "The United States Supreme Court has said once the school district is on notice there is a problem, they are responsible."
Fairport Superintendent Jon Hunter said he was surprised by the lawsuit.
"This is a student we are very concerned about,” said Hunter. “We have worked very hard with the student and his parents to meet his needs...We are still going to work very hard to serve this young man."
As awareness about bullying increases, these kinds of lawsuits are on the rise nationwide.
“It’s a big, growing area of law,” said local civil rights attorney Christina Agola.
Agola filed a bullying-related lawsuit against the Marion Central School District late last year. The lawsuit was settled in May. Agola said there was financial compensation, but would not give specifics. 13WHAM News filed a Freedom of Information request with the Marion superintendent to learn more about the settlement.
Agola said under the law, school districts must provide a safe, harassment-free environment.
“If they knew or should have known of the harassment or the bullying and took no remedial action to correct it, that opens the door to liability,” said Agola. “There are a whole panoply of tools a school district can use that have control over the students, to regulate the conduct of those people that it knows are in their boundaries and are committing offending acts.”