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Toms River Schools Ordered To Pay Bullied Student

The school district failed to take reasonable actions to stop persistent bullying of a student based on his perceived sexual orientation, the state says

The Toms River Regional Board of Education has been ordered to pay a former student more than $68,000 for pain and suffering, plus interest.

In an announcement this morning, Division on Civil Rights Director Craig T. Sashihara concluded that the school district failed to take reasonable actions to stop persistent bullying of the student based on his perceived sexual orientation more than a decade ago.

Ruling in what is widely regarded as the state’s seminal school bullying case,  Director Sashihara affirmed a prior decision by an Administrative Law Judge that the Toms River district’s counseling-based handling of students who subjected L.W. to verbal harassment, physical assault and what the Supreme Court described as repeated “molestation” was ineffective and failed to protect him.

“The law does not require school districts to shelter their students from every single instance of peer harassment. It merely asks each school district to take reasonable measures to protect those under its watch. In the case of L.W., that was not done,” Director Sashihara wrote in a Final Decision issued earlier this week.

The L.W. case originated in March 1999 when L.W. filed a formal complaint with the Division on Civil Rights alleging that the Toms River regional district had failed to respond effectively when students repeatedly bullied him because of his perceived homosexuality.

The division investigated, and in July 2000, issued a Finding of Probable Cause against the school district. In July 2004, the Division found Toms River schools liable for failing to properly address the harassment, but the district appealed.

In 2005 the Appellate Division upheld the Division’s conclusion, and found that, despite evidence that Toms River schools had not ignored the harassment of L.W., it had failed to effectively respond to the problem. However, the school district successfully petitioned the Supreme Court to review the matter, and to determine whether the school district could be held liable in such a circumstance.

The Supreme Court subsequently ruled that a school district may be held responsible for failing to take action “reasonably calculated to end the harassment” of a student.

“Students in the classroom are entitled to no less protection from unlawful discrimination and harassment than their adult counterparts in the workplace,” noted the Supreme Court opinion, which was written by Chief Justice James R. Zazzali.

However, the Court remanded the case for further proceedings on the question of what would have constituted “reasonable action” by the Toms River district given the “totality of the circumstances” at the time. Director Sashihara’s decision earlier this week resolves that lingering question.

In an order accompanying his decision, the director found that the Toms River regional district must pay L.W. $50,000 plus interest accrued from September 9, 2004. That interest amounts to $18,116.98.

In addition, Sashihara ruled that the school district must pay the State a $10,000 statutory penalty. Under Sashihara’s Order, the school district also will be required to pay the State’s counsel fees plus interest accrued since September 2004, but those fees have not yet been fully calculated.

Testimony and documentation introduced during hearings on the L.W. case over the years showed that taunts directed at L.W. based on his perceived sexual orientation began when he was in fourth grade. Throughout junior high and high school, L.W. was verbally harassed and mocked, and on numerous occasions physically assaulted.

In one incident cited by the Supreme Court, a student grabbed L.W.’s “private area” in front of other students and engaged in sexually suggestive movements against L.W.’s body while taunting him by asking repeatedly “Do you like it like this?” On another occasion, L.W. was punched in the face and threatened with stabbing if he reported the attack.

On another occasion, outside a convenience store in downtown Toms River, L.W. was shoved to the ground, threatened with a beating and then covered with dirt by a fellow student at Toms River South High School. He withdrew from attending school in Toms River the next day

~Barb~ February 28, 2013 at 10:29 PM
If this happened at TR SOUTH, why is there a pic of TR NORTH in this article?
O'Brien February 28, 2013 at 11:57 PM
B.S. There is so many things going on in all the school systems. They play dumb, pass the blame, don't want to admit to any wrong doing...I have seen parents complain at a few different schools only to get pushed around...Let's put it this way, they know who has money and power...If you parents has those two qualities, not to worry, if not they don't care about all the other kids...Schools are so political it will makes me sick...I feel bad for this kid and his family....I am sure they complained and it fell on deaf ears...All public schools should have to put in writing where parents can go to make complaints if they are not being heard about any issues in the public school. The local schools have to much power and it needs to be stopped...The County and State need to step up and get involved.
none of yobusiness February 28, 2013 at 11:59 PM
Jake thank you for putting your life on the line for this country. Too many vets didnt receive a proper thank you. When I was about 6-7 I was bullied and beat up by two neighborhood kids I came home and told my Dad, my Dad told me not to come home untold I kicked their asses. Guess what, that was the end of the bullying. Old school but effective. Today we sue and go to therapists, pathetic.
O'Brien March 01, 2013 at 12:01 AM
Trust me, it not just TR schools, its pretty much all the schools...It comes down to no accountability and they do not want any blemishes on their record so they will sweep it under the carpet... No accountability at all....Don't tell me it is the parents...That is the biggest lie and lame excuses. The parents have no control what goes behind the school walls of corruption...All these Superintendents, Principals, Teachers has the power...I don't want to hear it...They all should be disciplined and lose their jobs if they knew issues were going on that they refused to admit and resolve...It's a huge problem.
O'Brien March 01, 2013 at 12:11 AM
Betty Boop...There is many lawsuits going on in all schools...Yes, it is costing the tax payers lots of money...You should see what all the lawyers make on both sides...It is not just students...its also many union issues, members against members amongst school faculty, administration etc....They will fight until the end because they never want to admit they are wrong or accountability. They will wast mega tax payers money only to pay out in the end anyway...They don't care about the tax payers money, workers or the students. They will pay for the lawyers, the person who is suing as long as they don't have to admit any guilt. They could have just paid them from the beginning, but why do that? its all a game and they don't care because it is not their money.
JD March 01, 2013 at 12:12 AM
LOL... so true... albeit this case is a little different since it had to do with sexual orientation. Society has changed from back in the day. Perhaps I don't see it, but it seems to me that there is less bullying, teasing, etc these days versus back in the day.
O'Brien March 01, 2013 at 12:20 AM
You can't beat kids that is teasing, harassing you any longer...If you hit a kid today, they will have a swat team out to arrest you for protecting yourself. They will want to put you in therapy, suspend you until a therapist tells the school they can go back.
O'Brien March 01, 2013 at 12:29 AM
Basically there is more rights for those who is bullying then those who is being bullied thanks to this twisted society. The educators don't even try to put a stop to the bullying...blind to the popular kids...If the kid is popular, or known they will look the other way as usual...That is what they do with their staff too, look the other way on issues...It is always everyone else's fault other than themselves.
reality check March 01, 2013 at 01:54 AM
The parents of the bullies need to pay out the money not the tax payers. You see scum creates scum. The bullies and thier families should be exposed and run out of town. Don't have children if you are unable to teach them right from wrong. A family tree of scum is not welcome in our community.
cam March 01, 2013 at 01:57 AM
So agree! People know if their kid is an @ss and is bullying others. And if they don't know its only because they are uninvolved or are choosing to ignore it.
Betty Boop March 01, 2013 at 02:14 AM
Disagree. Someone commented above, the parents and kid never wanted money. They wanted an appology, but TRRS fought it. It is the TRRS administrators who didn't want to apologize that should pay out of their pocket. Which is why I kept saying, why did TRRS fight this??
reality check March 01, 2013 at 02:18 AM
Hey boop control your kids and take a poop.
Betty Boop March 01, 2013 at 03:14 AM
Reality, read what you wrote. That is bullying. So, based upon what you wrote, are you scum also? should you be run out of town? Quite ridiculous what you wrote and you don't walk the talk. Just say'in.
O'Brien March 01, 2013 at 04:32 AM
@cam....The Schools are the ones who chose to ignore it...You see, when you are in any school, they own you and your family...You really don't have a say even though they pretend that you do.
O'Brien March 01, 2013 at 04:33 AM
@reality check...You must be a kid or a stupid parent who has no control over your kids or yourself.
lol March 01, 2013 at 12:38 PM
O'Brien, I agree with your comments..All schools are worried about their reputations...everything from bullying to drugs is swept under the rug !! All bullying and drug related issues are supposed to be reported to the police. Parents seem to think they have no other option but to let the school handle these types of situations. This is not true !! Parents need to know their and their childrens rights !! If the school does not fix the problem....go to the police, report the incident..It needs to be on file. Once this starts costing the parents of these bullies $$$$ maybe they will control their kids !!! And Toms River school should counter-sue the parents too,both parties are at fault !!!
Betty Boop March 01, 2013 at 02:30 PM
Sodone.. have to disagree. Kids will be kids. It was TRRS that fought LW and his parents for 14 years. LW didn't sue the bully or the bully's parents. I still come back to WHY TRRS fought this kid and his parents.
lol March 01, 2013 at 03:31 PM
Betty Boop, This "kids will be kids" attitude has gotten us to this point..When I was a kid I was held accountable for my actions, this taught me right from wrong...Too many parents take that attitude and defend their kids actions by saying "oh they are just kids"...there are no consequences at home or school for these bullies...thats why they keep bullying... I think TRRS fought LW and his parents cuz they didnt want to admit they dropped the ball concerning LW being allowed to be bullied for all those years..I didnt say that LW sued the bullies and parents, I was stating that maybe the bullies' parents should be sued...
Mr. ? March 01, 2013 at 03:42 PM
How about the taxpayers go after, and punish the administrators and those responsible for not handling the situation properly. Sure many of them are still there. But that wont happen. Of course they will say they did what they are supposed to and the courts only rendered a different opinion, and then they are protected by tenure. The board and....defended there innocence at a greater end cost to the tax payer to protect their reputation, protect their rationalization that the district (protection of individuals) was ( were ) not at fault, or to maintain those legal bills. Pick one or all.
Betty Boop March 01, 2013 at 03:54 PM
I looked up the case. It was decided by the NJ Supreme Court in 2007. This was entirely decided by Ritacco, the Ritacco BOE, and Gilmore firm. But, why is the case still rearing its head??
suz March 01, 2013 at 11:27 PM
Do you still think its great when, if you stop to think about it, YOU are paying? Believe me, I think bullying is way out of control...having said that, a huge can of worms is now opened.
Charles Henry March 02, 2013 at 12:03 AM
Bloated legal fees
O'Leary March 02, 2013 at 01:41 AM
Charles...Not only does it come down to bloated legal fees, it add up to a lot of the tax payers money so schools and administrators can protect their reputation, pride more than doing what is right for the kids....These is why I can't stand the public school system any longer..they have no problem spending the tax payers money and again it is happening in all the schools not just Toms River. Instead of them not just admitting to what happened and change their practices they would rather just rack up absorbent amount of money to all these bloated legal fees. All they had to do is be responsible, make the parents and these bullying kids be responsible they will let them go...I can't help to wonder that these kids were most likely connected to someone or a popular kid based on who their parents where. This is the problem and the real need why public schools need to change.
O'Leary March 02, 2013 at 01:41 AM
see above...."adds up to a lot the tax payers money"
O'Leary March 02, 2013 at 01:42 AM
see above..."This is why I can't stand the public school system any longer"
O'Leary March 02, 2013 at 01:46 AM
see above...Who their parents were? Sorry for all the errors...in a little bit of a hurry.
Da Poppa March 02, 2013 at 10:42 AM
@BB - did you read the whole article? It clearly states the harassment began in 4th grade: "Testimony and documentation introduced during hearings on the L.W. case over the years showed that taunts directed at L.W. based on his perceived sexual orientation began when he was in fourth grade. Throughout junior high and high school, L.W. was verbally harassed and mocked, and on numerous occasions physically assaulted." $50K plus interest? The school district got off too easy. The administrators charged with protecting this child should be fired.
grace March 07, 2013 at 04:37 PM
what you said is so true amanda and it makes me cry . yea kids have abused other kids for years and it sucks to be a parent of one.. so i say yay for lw and wish that a future is better than a past for that student...and you forgot one thing the teachers etc( all ritacco hirees especially) forgot and thats their tenure and that blown up pension they get til they die
grace March 07, 2013 at 04:40 PM
name the brat bullies! feel bad because its only getting worse with facebook, texts etc..way easy too bully and not use your real name
Samantha March 13, 2013 at 06:26 PM
Remember Columbine? The shooters where victims. They killed the kids that bullied them. Didn't agree with their actions at all....just saying kids are fighting back.

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