Russell Dickerson III, a 20-year-old former Aberdeen student who endured harassment throughout junior high and high school—including being labeled a "dog" and a "stupid nigger"—will receive a $100,000 settlement from the school district for failing to stop the harassment and provide a safe learning environment, announced the ACLU today.
“Public school officials must be held accountable when they fail to meet their responsibility to act decisively when a student is subjected to harassment by his peers," said Sarah Dunne, ACLU-WA legal director in a statement released today. "This settlement sends a message to school districts statewide to take strong action as soon as they learn that a student is being bullied."
As we previously reported, from 2003 to 2009—i.e., throughout junior high and high school—Dickerson endured near-constant harassment from other students on the basis of his race, sex, and perceived sexual orientation. Students tripped him in hallways and threw food at him in the cafeteria. In one incident, three students pushed him to the floor in the hallway and smashed a raw egg on his head; only one of the students was disciplined.
At Aberdeen High School, the harassment escalated.
Students pinched and fondled his chest, spat on his head, and threw objects at him. Students created a website mocking Dickerson and his perceived sexual orientation, and posted threatening racist comments on it.
Dickerson and his parents repeatedly reported these incidents of harassment to district administrators, both verbally and in writing—even after being discouraged by an assistant principal from reporting the abuse. “I learned from my parents that you should never give up," said Dickerson. "You should fight for your rights—you don’t just walk away."
The lawsuit, filed in December 2010 by the ACLU in U.S. District Court in Tacoma, argued that the deliberate indifference to ongoing harassment by the school district, which receives federal funds, violated federal law – Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. The district’s negligent inaction also violated the Washington Law Against Discrimination.