Court sides with
student over harassment

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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