A 19-year old African American, former student of the Aberdeen, Washington School District filed a federal lawsuit against them on Tuesday, alleging they didn’t do enough to prevent the bullying he endured daily. Russell Dickerson III and his parents claim that the young man was the target of racial and anti-gay epithets. One bully even threatened Dickerson with a lynching.
The situation was so bad that the American Civil Liberties Union became involved in 2007. The ACLU organized the press conference held in Seattle announcing the lawsuit.
The complaint alleges that the Dickersons repeatedly reported the incidences of bullying to school officials, but that the officials responded with “deliberate indifference” in spite of a no-contact order which had come from the courts to keep one of Dickerson’s harassers at bay.
“It was like a prison sentence…I found myself dreading school,” said Dickerson.
The lawsuit alleges that students tripped him, pushed him, spit on him, threw food at him, derided him with a doctored picture which depicted him kissing a man and even created a website so they could bully the youth in the virtual world in addition to the real one. It was on that website that the lynch threat was made which prompted the Grays Harbor County Superior Court to issue the no-contact order.
When Dickerson reported the site to authorities, he claims he not only became the target of retaliatory harassment, but that he was also encouraged to not report that harassment by the high school’s assistant principal.
It was only after Dickerson’s father complained to the school board that any action occurred. The district hired an insurance professional who concluded that harassment had, indeed, taken place. The ACLU declined to comment specifically on how the school district reacted to all of the various complaints, only categorizing whatever response had taken place as “too little too late.”
The case is only the latest in the succession of teen bullying cases which has come under greater scrutiny since Tyler Clementi’s suicide. The Rutger University Freshman took his own life after he learned that his roommate had secretly filmed an intimate encounter Clementi had with another man.
On late Tuesday, Aberdeen School District Superintendent Tom Opstad said that district, contrary to what is alleged in the lawsuit, had been working with Dickerson and his family to address the complaints.
“The District adamantly denies that the District has allowed any student, including Russell, to be harassed without prompt corrective action being taken,” said Opstad in a prepared statement. He goes on to say that Dickerson works as a tutor in an elementary school within the system which is “indicative of the fact that he feels safe and comfortable in our schools.”
You know what I think? If Opstad really believes that Dickerson’s comfort in working with elementary school children is evidence that the district did enough to make Dickerson feel safe at school, then there may well, indeed, be serious problems within the Aberdeen School District after all.
It seems to me that a high school kid would have better things to do with his time than cry wolf to the ALCU. Not to mention a high school kid who has a no-contact court order in his back pocket.
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