Sticks and stones can break your bones, and, as the old schoolyard ditty goes, words may never hurt you. But at least they may lead you to be granted large damages in a lawsuit.
A Seattle man has been awarded $100,000 in his suit against the Aberdeen School District, charging they did little to stop the racial and anti-gay bullying he endured from 2003 to 2009.
Russell Dickerson III, 20, filed the lawsuit last year with the aid of the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington (ACLU), claiming that throughout junior high and high school he was spit on, mocked and taunted with racial epithets.
“This lawsuit is to bring about change in the culture of the district. A culture that is supportive of diversity or difference,” Russell Dickerson Sr., father of the plaintiff, said in a statement. “Teachers have to really listen and care when students come to them with concerns. Understand your students and realize that each one is an individual and treat them as such.”
While still in school, Dickerson claims that his peers would leave racist notes in his backpack, and he found a fake picture of him kissing a man posted in the school’s locker room. In addition, students would pinch his chest, and a website was even created that teased him about being Black and suggested that he was gay.
Russell said that on numerous occasions he went to the assistant principal’s office, but he was told that he should simply change his style of clothing to avoid being teased.
The ACLU and Russell’s parents say Aberdeen school officials failed to do their job.
“Going to middle school and high school is supposed to be a memorable experience, something that we can cherish as we grow into adults. It's not supposed to be the worst time in your life,” Dickerson Sr. said.
According to a recent report, bullying takes a higher toll on high-achieving Black and Latino students than their white counterparts. Last year, the Department of Education Office of Civil Rights took action on the issue by announcing that some student misconduct falls under federal anti-discrimination laws, heightening the severity of punishment for youth.
In an interview posted on the ACLU website, Dickerson said that by suing he wants school administrators to act on the problems happening in their school and raise awareness of bullying.
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(Photo: Ritee Parikh/ACLU)