Today, the ACLU filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court in Tacoma against the Aberdeen School District on behalf of Russell Dickerson III, a former student who says he suffered six years of exhaustive harassment in school—including having raw eggs smashed on his head, being called "faggot" "nigger" and "fat ass heifer," and having his nipples tweaked by other students—and that school officials knew of the harassment but failed to stop the abuse.
"[School district officials] have the responsibility to take strong and effective action when they hear of harassment in their schools," said Kathleen Taylor, executive director of the ACLU o Washington, at a press conference this morning. "[Dickerson's] parents complained repeatedly... and the school district failed to take prompt and effective steps to end this hostile education environment." Taylor added that the ACLU has been in talks with the school district on Dickerson's behalf to end the harassment since 2007.
Dickerson, now 19 and still living in Aberdeen, is a soft-spoken young man who says he has a hard time trusting people and rarely leaves the house unless he has to, for fear of running into his high school tormentors. He describes the six years of harassment he faced because of his race, looks, and perceived sexual orientation as a "prison sentence."
Dickerson's prison sentence after the jump.
Filing documents show that the prison sentence included being harassed in cruel new ways that exceed simple (but painful) name calling, tripping, and shoving that Dickerson was used to. In 2007, students created a website mocking Dickerson and posted threatening, racist comments to it—including a call to lynch Dickerson.
In 2008, students altered a photograph of Dickerson to show him kissing a man and then taped the photograph in the school locker room for students and faculty to see (and passed to other students via cell phone).
The filing documents charge that Dickerson and his family repeatedly reported these instances of harassment, and many others, to school administrators. One school official responded to Dickerson's complaints of abuse by recommending he "consider changing his style of dress to avoid further harassment," while another told Dickerson not to report instances of harassment because it simply fueled his bullies.
The lawsuit claims that during his six years as a student, the school district initiated only one formal investigation into Dickerson's allegations of harassment—in 2004—after Dickerson's parents complained to the school board. The investigator found that Dickerson had been harassed but, according to the filing documents, "recommended no adjustments to the school district's anti-harassment policies or its implementation of them."
"I gave them my son, my biggest asset, my biggest investment, I turned him over to the school district to give quality care and they failed," said Russel Dickerson Jr. at today's press conference. When asked why he didn't simply home school his son, he replied that, "I shouldn't have to pull my son out of school because of harassment. Every parent should be concerned when the school district has no accountability and students are allowed to dictate the culture of a school district."
Both the elder and younger Dickerson expressed hope that through the ACLU's lawsuit, changes would be made to the Aberdeen School District and others to make them more responsive to reported instances of harassment.
Dickerson was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder at the age of 14 but nevertheless managed to graduate Aberdeen high school in 2009. He's still living at home and currently taking college classes online. The ACLU is seeking an unspecified monetary amount for Dickerson to cover the costs of counseling and college tuition.