CLASS DISMISSED

WA School District Settles $100,000 Lawsuit With Bullied Student

It looks like its pay day for Russell Dickerson III, a former student at Aberdeen High School in Washington State, who sued his school district after years of harassment based on his race and perceived sexual orientation.

With the help of the ACLU of Washington, Dickerson filed papers in 2010 claiming Aberdeen School District officials knew he was being bullied but failed to take steps to stop it.

A report from the ACLU details some of the abuse Dickerson suffered:                                                                                                 

At Miller Junior High, Dickerson was called names by other students and found notes in his backpack and taped to his back calling him “stupid nigger” and “dog.” Students tripped him in the hallways and threw food at him in the cafeteria. In one incident, three students pushed him to the floor in the hallway and smashed a raw egg on his head; only one of the students was disciplined.

At Aberdeen High School, the harassment escalated… Dickerson suffered physical harassment, with other students pinching and fondling his chest, spitting on his head, and throwing objects at him. Although an assistant principal discouraged Dickerson from reporting misconduct by the student’s peers, the student and his parents repeatedly reported incidents of harassment to district administrators, both verbally and in writing. Yet the district failed to take adequate steps to end the harassment.

In 2007 students in the district created a website mocking Dickerson and his perceived sexual orientation, and posted threatening racist comments on it. Students discussed the website at school. Grays Harbor Superior Court issued a no contact order between Dickerson and one of his harassers who had threatened on the website to lynch him, yet Dickerson became the target of retaliatory harassment after reporting the website to school authorities.

This week, the case ended in a settlement, with Dickerson being awarded $100,000 and the ACLU netting $35,000 in legal fees.

“Public school officials must be held accountable when they fail to meet their responsibility to act decisively when a student is subjected to harassment by his peers,” said Sarah Dunne, ACLU-WA legal director. “This settlement sends a message to school districts statewide to take strong action as soon as they learn that a student is being bullied.”

Dickerson, now 20, says it was his family that kept him strong and helped him decide to seek justice. “I learned from my parents that you should never give up. You should fight for your rights—you don’t just walk away.”

Wouldn’t it be nice if they taught that at school, too?