Landmark Toms River School Bullying Case Decided
The Toms River school district failed to take reasonable actions to stop the persistent bullying of the student based on his perceived sexual orientation more than a decade ago.
That’s the decision announced today by Division on Civil Rights Director Craig Sashihara who ordered the Toms River Regional Board of Education to pay a former student more than $68,000 for pain and suffering, plus interest.
“The law does not require school districts to shelter their students from every single instance of peer harassment,” explains Sashihara. “It merely asks each school district to take reasonable measures to protect those under its watch.”
The ruling upholds the earlier decision by an Administrative Law Judge that the Toms River district’s counseling-based handling of students who subjected the victim identified as L.W. to verbal harassment, physical assault and what the Supreme Court described as repeated “molestation” was ineffective and failed to protect him.
Testimony and documents introduced during hearings revealed that in one incident a student grabbed L.W.’s “private area” in front of other students and engaged in sexually suggestive movements against while taunting him by asking repeatedly “Do you like it like this?”
On another occasion, L.W. was punched in the face and threatened with stabbing if he reported the attack. In another incident, outside a convenience store in downtown Toms River, L.W. was shoved to the ground, threatened with a beating and then covered with dirt by a fellow student at Toms River High School. He withdrew from attending school in Toms River the next day.
Case Started In 1999
The L.W. case came to light in March of 1999 when L.W. filed a formal complaint with the Division on Civil Rights alleging that the Toms River regional district had failed to respond effectively when students repeatedly bullied him because of his perceived homosexuality.
The Division’s finding the Toms River schools were liable for failing to properly address the harassment was appealed, but upheld in 2005 despite evidence that Toms River schools had not ignored the harassment of L.W., it had failed to effectively respond to the problem.
The school district successfully petitioned the Supreme Court to review the matter, and to determine whether the school district could be held liable in such a circumstance. The High Court ruled that a school district may be held responsible for failing to take action “reasonably calculated to end the harassment” of a student.
A Costly Ruling
In his decision Sashihara has found that the Toms River regional district must pay L.W. $50,000 plus interest accrued from September 9, 2004. That interest comes to $18,116.98.
The school district must also pay the State a $10,000 statutory penalty and will be required to pay the State’s counsel fees plus interest accrued since September 2004, but those fees have not yet been fully calculated.