School’s Prompt Handling of Bullies Helps in Court

     CHICAGO (CN) – A school district is not responsible for the behavior of three bullies it promptly expelled for harassing a Russian classmate, the 7th Circuit ruled.
     The parents of the bullied girl, described only as Jane Doe in the court record, sought damages from the Elmbrook School District and school administrators.
     Doe was 2 when the couple adopted her and brought her from Russia to their home in the United States. In sixth and seventh grades, she suffered bullying from several male classmates.
     The harassment began as name calling, such as “bitch” and “stupid Russian.” One boy threw a ball at Doe in gym class, but the harassment eventually escalated and turned violent.
     One boy repeatedly hit Doe with this spiked track shoe in retaliation for dropping his jacket behind the bleachers, leaving puncture marks on both her legs.
     The next day, the boys chased Doe and hit her with sticks.
     Doe did not tell any school administrator or teacher about the abuse until her parents noticed her injuries.
     These incidents resulted in three boys being charged with misdemeanor battery and expelled from school.
     On Friday, a three-judge panel with the 7th Circuit affirmed dismissal of the family’s case.
     “Although Doe’s classmates’ actions were inexcusable, the undisputed evidence shows that the defendants are not legally responsible for those actions,” Judge David Hamilton wrote for the court. “Keeping in mind how thoughtless and even cruel children can be to one another, the Supreme Court has interpreted both Title VI and Title IX to impose a demanding standard for holding schools and school officials legally responsible for one student’s mistreatment of another.”
     To be held liable school officials must have witnessed or received a report of the harassment, and their response to the information must have been “clearly unreasonable.”
     “In this case – even assuming Doe’s harassers were motivated by her sex or ethnicity – once the defendants gained actual notice of behavior that could qualify as severe and pervasive, they took action against the wrongdoers that fell well within their broad discretion,” Hamilton said. “In other words, the defendants were not deliberately indifferent to the harassment of Doe.”

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