A week after the New York Civil Liberties Union filed a federal lawsuit against the Mohawk Central School District in Herkimer County for failing to protect a gay student who does not conform to masculine stereotypes from vicious and relentless harassment, threats and physical abuse at school, the district has agreed to take immediate action aimed to ensure that student’s safety when classes resume next month.
The agreement, approved by a federal judge, does not end the lawsuit, but it means that the school district will meet the NYCLU’s demands for emergency relief to provide for the student’s safety. The agreement is under seal, meaning its specifics cannot be disclosed.
We are pleased the school district has finally recognized that it must act to protect our client’s safety, but this agreement is just a first step,” NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman said. “We will pursue our lawsuit until the Mohawk Central School District makes the long-term solutions necessary to ensure that all students are safe at school and treated with the dignity and respect they deserve.”
J.L., a 14-year-old student at Gregory B. Jarvis Junior/Senior High School, endured escalating harassment the past two years for his sexual orientation and for not conforming to masculine stereotypes. He suffered near-constant verbal assault, his personal property has been defaced and broken, and he was regularly pushed and had things thrown at him. This past year, a student knocked J.L. down the stairs and sprained his ankle and a student brought a knife to school and threatened to kill him.
Though the district was repeatedly made aware of the abuse, district officials – including the superintendent and school principal – were indifferent. They failed to formerly investigate the harassment, discipline students, or even inform J.L. and his parents of their rights to file complaints under the school’s grievance procedures.
The lawsuit, filed Aug. 19 in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York, maintains that the school district violated J.L.’s rights under the 14th Amendment; Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972, and state human rights and civil rights laws.
“It shouldn’t take a lawsuit to motivate school district officials to protect a student from vicious harassment,” said NYCLU staff attorney Corey Stoughton, lead counsel on the case. “Our case will proceed until the district addresses the systemic failures that allowed it to ignore J.L.’s plight for two years.”
In addition to Stoughton, attorneys on the case are Arthur Eisenberg, Ami Sanghvi, Matthew Faiella and Naomi R. Shatz.