Russell Dickerson III, a straight black high school grad from Washington State, is suing his former school district for doing nothing to stop the racist and anti-gay harassment aimed his way by classmates during junior high and high school.
In a federal lawsuit against Aberdeen School District, Dickerson and his parents (that’s his dad in the photo) claim administrators were well aware of the torment—which included biased slurs, getting spat on, enduring a website that openly mocked him—but did nothing. Dickerson even had a no-contact order against a classmate who threatened to lynch him, according to the complaint filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington. The suit seeks compensation to cover the necessary counseling from his bullying and the cost of his continuing education.
That sounds fair enough to us given that Dickerson’s parents saythey repeatedly notified administrators of the bullying, only to have their concerns ignored.
The Seattle Post-Intelligencer outlines the claims:
When Dickerson enrolled at Miller Junior High, he said he had found notes from students calling him a “dog” and racial epithets. He said students tripped and pushed him, and threw food, rubber bands and spitballs at him. One assistant principal suggested to Dickerson that he change his style of clothing to avoid further harassment, the complaint says. Only after Dickerson’s father complained to the school board did the district do a formal investigation, according to the lawsuit. The district allegedly hired an insurance professional, who concluded that Dickerson had indeed been harassed. But recommendation emerged for changes at the school or district.
When Dickerson entered Aberdeen High School, the harassment escalated, he said. Students continued to call him derogatory racial and anti-gay names. They pinched and fondled his chest, spit on his head, taunted him about his physical appearance, and insinuated that he was gay. “You got quite a bust going on,” they allegedly said to Dickerson. “Hey girl, I like my fish squirmy.”
In 2007, students created a website that mocked him. A student threatened on the website to lynch Dickerson, leading the Grays Harbor County Superior Court to issue a no-contact order against the student. The ACLU, which became involved in Dickerson’s plight that year, declined to specify how the district responded to the website and other complaints, except to say “it was too little too late.”
Dickerson said he became the target of retaliatory harassment after reporting the site to authorities. An assistant high school principal allegedly discouraged him from reporting student harassment. The hostile environment included a group of students who displayed confederate flags on their cars in the school parking lot, he said. The bullying led Dickerson to struggle academically, experience extreme isolation and despair, and fear new people and situations. He said he was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder at age 14.
To hear that a student is tormented so horribly that he cannot even complete the most basic parts of his education is deplorable. That school administrators would be complicit in the harassment, and urge Dickerson to keep quiet, is reprehensible. For what it’s worth, Aberdeen superintendent Tom Opstad says in a statement: “The District adamantly denies that the District has allowed any student, including Russell, to be harassed without prompt corrective action being taken.” Moreover, Opstad claims that Dickerson currently working as a tutor for elementary-school kids in the district is “indicative of the fact that he feels safe and comfortable in our schools.”
Because seven-year-olds haven’t learned to be complete assholes yet?