(CN) - The 6th Circuit revived a lawsuit brought by parents who accused Michigan's Hudson Area Schools of responding with "deliberate indifference" to the bullying their son endured from sixth to ninth grade.
A three-judge panel of the federal appeals court in Cincinnati voted 2-1 to reverse U.S. District Judge Lawrence Zatkoff's ruling for the school district in the Title IX case.
The plaintiffs claimed other students pushed their son into lockers and called him names such as "queer," "pig" and "man boobs" on a daily basis.
Their son said he reported the abuse to school officials, and was told "kids will be kids; it's middle school." The bullying allegedly got so bad that the plaintiffs' son began eating his lunch in the band room to avoid his tormentors.
The plaintiffs said the incidents intensified in ninth grade and culminated in sexual assault. Students allegedly broke into the boy's locker, removed his clothes and urinated on them, threw his tennis shoes in the toilet, and covered the locker with shaving cream "spelling out sexually oriented words." On another occasion, the plaintiffs said their son was sexually assaulted in the locker room by one of his baseball teammates, who rubbed his genitalia on the victim's face.
The plaintiffs claimed the school allowed the bullying to go on for too long, and failed to enforce procedures that would put an end to it.
Judge Nelson Moore found that the school "had knowledge that its methods for dealing with the overall student-on-student sexual harassment ... were ineffective, but continued to employ only those methods." The majority said a jury should decide whether the defendants' alleged indifference violated Title IX.
Judge Vinson dissented, saying "a school district is not deliberately indifferent unless it knows of and disregards an excessive risk to the student's health or safety." Because the plaintiffs' son failed to report most of the harassment, Vinson argued, the school could not be held liable for failing to stop unreported harassment by unknown students.