Recently released federal correspondence charged officials of the Tehachapi Unified School District in central California with gross negligence. The letter alleged that educators failed to properly respond to and rectify repeated harassment complaints from a 13-year-old student.
The relentless taunting resulted from the boy’s alleged homosexuality. Last September, the student killed himself in response to intolerable social isolation. Consequently, his mother filed a federal civil rights action against the school district.
Her litigation sparked an in-depth governmental investigation. The official conclusion was that school authorities had indeed shirked their legal duty to protect its pupil against “persistent, pervasive and often severe sex-based harassment.”
A report by the US Dept. of Justice revealed that the student endured more than two years of malicious taunting, inappropriate touching, and having objects hurled at him. Conditions became so severe that he stopped donning gymnasium attire in the locker room. He feared assaults from fellow classmates.
The vice-principal once dismissed such complaints by citing the “difficult age” of students and his inability to change inherent attitudes instilled by their parents.
In another instance, the principal asked Seth to point out his harassers from school yearbook pictures. He took no further action, however, because the boy could not recite his harassers’ names.
In partial settlement of this case, the school district agreed to retrain faculty and staff and to submit to several years of intensive monitoring of its anti-harassment remedial efforts. The school district Superintendent expressed positive anticipation about these changes.
American Civil Liberties Union attorney James Gillian represents the boy’s mother. Gilliam expressed being “ecstatic” over the official confirmation of his client’s allegations. He further posited that this case will set a precedent by sending the message to school officials throughout the entire nation that they have a positive duty to protect pupils.