J.R. was a student in New York City who was picked on by the other kids. The court case tells us that J.R. had “major depressive disorder, panic disorder with agoraphobia, and borderline personality disorder,” and that he was bullied based on his race, gender and “perceived femininity.”
It was pretty bad for J.R. He was hospitalized more than once due to depression and suicidal ideation. The lawsuit filed by J.R. and his parents alleges that the New York City schools should be held legally liable for the bullying of J.R.
Parents have a high burden of proof in a case like that. They have to prove that the bullying was really bad; that it was based on disability (Section 504 cases) or gender (Title IX); that the district knew about it; and that the district was “deliberately indifferent.”
It’s that last part that presents the highest hurdle. School officials make mistakes, but are rarely “deliberately indifferent.” Thus most of these cases get tossed out of court for lack of evidence of any “deliberate indifference.”
This case is not being tossed out—largely because of the principal’s response to the student’s request for a transfer to a different bus. The court cited this as the type of evidence that a jury might rely on to conclude that the school was “deliberately indifferent.” Here’s how the court put it:
For example, in response to complaints about the harassment endured by J.R. on the bus, the QCPC principal did not intervene; instead, she told Plaintiffs that the bullying was likely to continue given the violent nature of the student body. Although the “deliberate indifference” standard does not require that teachers and school administrators successfully prevent or eradicate all bullying behavior, surely some effort to discourage that conduct and announce its unacceptability is required.
So let’s learn from New York’s mistakes. If a student requests a transfer to another bus, or another classroom, due to bullying, let’s not respond with: “Well, we can do that. But you know these kids today. The bullying is going to continue.”
Let’s say something better than that. The case is J.R. v. New York City Department of
Education, decided by the federal district court for the Eastern District of New York on August 20, 2015. We found it at 66 IDELR 32.
DAWG BONE: PROOF OF “DELIBERATE INDIFFERENCE” USUALLY COMES STRAIGHT OUT OF A SCHOOL OFFICIAL’S MOUTH. THINK BEFORE YOU TALK.