Eighth grader sues district over its response to harassment… | TCTA
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Eighth grader sues district over its response to harassment claims

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An eighth grader reported that she was being bullied by her peers based on her race and national origin. The assistant principal told the student he would call the parents of the harassers and follow up with the student to confirm that the bullying had stopped. He did neither of those things, but did speak with at least one of the students about their behavior.

About two weeks later, the student told a teacher she "didn't want to...live anymore" due to the harassment. The school counselor performed a suicide assessment, determined that the student was not suicidal and offered further counseling services.

Two days later, the student assaulted one of her harassers in response to being called a "bitch." The student was arrested and charged with assault. The district also determined she should be suspended for three days and assigned to the disciplinary alternative learning center for 30 days.

Before this could occur, the student attempted to cut herself with a pair of scissors. She was admitted for four days of in-patient psychiatric care for depression and suicidal ideation, then stayed home from school for approximately three weeks. During this time, the student appealed the disciplinary placement. The placement was reversed and the assault was removed from the student's disciplinary record.

After the student returned to school, the harassing conduct continued. The harassers called her racial slurs, touched her hair and told her that she smelled, threw a ball at her face and sprayed perfume into her face while telling her that she smelled. The district implemented a "stay away agreement" and the student was ultimately transferred to another school in the district.

The student then sued the school district, alleging that it failed to train staff members and address complaints of reported peer harassment based on race and national origin. The lawsuit was dismissed and the student appealed to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.

The court of appeals was asked to consider whether the district had been deliberately indifferent to the student's reports of harassment.

A school district is liable for peer harassment only when it is deliberately indifferent to the harassment. This is determined by examining whether the district's response is clearly unreasonable in light of the known circumstances. A school district must do more than simply respond to harassment; it must respond reasonably to a risk of harm.

In this case, the court examined the facts detailed above and determined that the district was not deliberately indifferent because it provided the student with counseling sessions, informally reprimanded one of the harassers, investigated the complaints and implemented a "stay away" order. These actions, when viewed in light of the severity of the harassment, were determined to be sufficient to overcome a finding of deliberate indifference. The court of appeals upheld the dismissal of the lawsuit.