An Ohio school has agreed a settlement in a legal case that saw a student viciously beaten by another student in class, a video of which went viral on the Internet.
The Union-Scioto school board approved an agreement on Thursday that stemmed from another student’s assault on Zach King, then a 15-year-old freshman, in a Unioto High School classroom on Oct. 17.
King and his mother, Rebecca Collins, claimed that school officials “fostered an atmosphere” that permitted the bullying of lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender students while disregarding his reports of harassment.
“We hope similarly situated students don’t have to go through what Zach went through. The school district has made a commitment to try to avoid incidents like this in the future,” said James Hardiman, a Cleveland lawyer and the legal director of the ACLU of Ohio.
As a result of the settlement the district’s insurers will pay $20,000 in damages. The district will also pay up to $10,000 for medical and counseling expenses, and $5,000 in reimbursement for Zach and his mother’s legal fees. Officials have also agreed to develop a policy specifically addressing anti-LGBT behavior, as well as to train staff on how to better handle anti-LGBT harassment cases.
Lawyers for the district have, however, made it clear that the school does not accept charges of wrongdoing in Zach’s case.
A video of Zach being beaten in class by a fellow student went viral on the Internet last year. It later emerged that Zach and his mother had repeatedly pleaded with school authorities to do more to deal with the harassing behavior aimed at Zach. The suit claimed that the school’s authorities failed to take suitable action against his aggressors, and that they even asked Zach, “What can we do to change you?”
The ACLU, in taking on Zach’s case, charged that the school had ample opportunity to prevent the attack but failed to properly deal with the situation, with the ACLU of Ohio’s Legal Director, James L. Hardiman, saying at the time:
“Every child deserves a safe learning environment, free from violence and cruelty. The school had a responsibility to protect Zach, but looked the other way for over a year while he was verbally and physically bullied. Schools must proactively address bullying by engaging with students and teachers on the effects of harmful words and actions, or else risk even greater incidents of violence. This education must start at a young age in order to change the school’s culture, so this behavior is no longer acceptable.”
Following the settlement the ACLU highlighted the school had made a commitment to improving its handling of such cases, and that it hoped there would never be another incident like this in the district.
Image taken from ACLU public domain video campaign.