Gay teenager who alleged unchecked bullying settles with NY school district, to get $50K

Monday, March 29, 2010

Gay student settles lawsuit against NY district

ALBANY, N.Y. — A gay teenager in upstate New York who had claimed he was relentlessly bullied by classmates while school administrators stood by settled his lawsuit Monday against the school district.

Jacob — who is identified as “J.L.” in the lawsuit and doesn’t want his name revealed — sued the Mohawk Central School District in federal court last summer with help from the New York Civil Liberties Union. Now 15, he said school officials did virtually nothing to stop bullies who picked on him because he acted differently from other boys.

The U.S. Department of Justice had sought to intervene, citing the “important issues” it raised in enforcing federal civil rights laws.

Under the settlement filed in federal court, the district agreed to implement changes to protect students from harassment, including additional staff training. The district will report on its progress to the Civil Liberties Union and federal justice officials.

The district also agreed to pay $50,000 to Jacob’s family and to reimburse them for counseling services. The district didn’t admit to any wrongdoing under the settlement.

Jacob has since moved to a neighboring district, where he said he is much happier. Jacob’s father, Robert Sullivan, who has a different last name, said the money “is for Jacob’s future” and hopes that the settlement inspires other districts to change.

“Maybe this can be a door-opener for other schools,” Sullivan said.

Mohawk superintendent Joyce Caputo said in a prepared statement that district staff would never knowingly discriminate or tolerate bullying and remain committed to fostering a culture of tolerance and respect.

“We recognize there is always room to learn and improve — and we intend to do just that,” she said.

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