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U.S. Justice Department Joins Gay Teen’s Lawsuit

The United States Justice Department has intervened in the civil case between a former student and his school. The school, Gregory B Jarvis Junior Senior High School, part of the Mohawk Central School District, is accused of failing to stop students and teachers from bullying a 14 year old, openly gay student named Jacob. The claims are that the bullying centered around the child’s sexual orientation. See previous post HERE.

Department-Of-Justice-Seal.jpgThe student was often the subject of verbal and physical harassment, the lawsuit states, because he was openly gay. In 2009, the student began to dye his hair and wear eye makeup, which intensified the bullying to the point of being pushed down the stairs. The parents of the student claim that the school did nothing to stop the bullying.

However, the fact that the Justice Department is involved in the case signals that there may be a broader interpretation of the federal law that prohibits gender discrimination, which in this case is being applied to the gay male. The New York Civil Liberties Union attorney states that this involvement shows a major shift under the Obama Administration.

The basis for joining the lawsuit, the government says, is Title IX of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The case is being heard in US District Court in the Northern District of New York. The teen’s attorney states that the case is a fight for basic human rights afforded under the US Constitution. It commends the Justice Department for its involvement in the case.

The lawsuit seeks undisclosed monetary damages. With the joining of the Justice Department, this helps provide district wide relief for all district students in the future. The assistant attorney general in Washington authorized the involvement of the Justice Department by stating that it was a matter of general public importance.

The student is no longer in the Mohawk district but attends school in a neighboring district. The school district claims it is close to a settlement with the student, but further comments were not available. The Justice Department has interviewed numerous Mohawk school officials including Superintendent Joyce Caputo.

If you are a school administrator with a question about student/teacher safety, special education, accommodations, student rights, free speech or discipline, feel free to call Richard Oppenheim at 818-461-8500. There is never a charge for an initial consultation and we can help you choose the best direction to resolve any school district issue.