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Court sides with
student over harassment

Court sides with
student over harassment

An appellate court in New Jersey has upheld a ruling that students must be protected from antigay bullying

New Jersey's antidiscrimination law applies to children victimized by antigay bullying and schools can be held liable for it, an appellate court ruled on Wednesday. The appellate division of the superior court upheld a $50,000 award to a Toms River boy, identified only as L.W., who endured antigay taunts from classmates despite the school district's punishment of some of them. But it struck down a $10,000 award that the state Division on Civil Rights had ordered the district to pay his mother, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer.

The American Civil Liberties Union applauded the ruling, saying children have a right to a harassment-free school. "Today's decision ensures that children receive the same protections in their schools that their parents receive in the workplace," Deborah Jacobs, executive director of the ACLU-New Jersey, told the Inquirer.

But the district's lawyer said that children and schools could not be held to the same standards as workplaces and employers, and that the district would appeal.

The case, which dates to 1999, involved a student who was perceived to be gay and was harassed and assaulted by classmates beginning in fourth grade. According to the ruling, he was slapped, punched, and struck with a neck chain by students at various times. His mother complained to school officials, and an assistant principal at Toms River Intermediate West identified some of the children responsible, telling them more than once that their behavior was inappropriate and giving one of them detention, the ruling said.

The boy was harassed twice when he attended Toms River South High School, and his tormentors were suspended even though the confrontations had occurred off-campus, the Inquirer said. After his mother filed a complaint, the Division on Civil Rights found that even though at least 18 students had harassed the boy in four months, the district, which is in Ocean County, did not put all students on notice that such behavior was unacceptable.

The division's director awarded $50,000 to the boy and $10,000 to his mother for emotional distress. The three-judge appeals panel, in a split decision, upheld the award to the boy, struck down the award to his mother, and found that the school district should not have to take "remedial measures" to train employees to better recognize peer harassment on the basis of sexual orientation. (

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