Student Sues Washington State School District, Saying They Failed to Stop Bullying

Russell Dickerson III alleges his school district did nothing to stop years of harassment based on his race and perceived sexual orientation. "It was like a prison sentence," he says, "that carried on into high school."
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A 19-year-old former student has teamed up with the ACLU of Washington to sue the Aberdeen School District in Washington State. He alleges the school did nothing to stop years of harassment based on his race and perceived sexual orientation.

Russell Dickerson III told reporters that he was diagnosed with PTSD at the age of 14 because of the harassment. He was bullied throughout junior high and high school.

"It was like a prison sentence that carried on into high school," he said.

Dickerson told reporters students called him "Faggot" and the "N-word."

According to the complaint filed on behalf of Dickerson:

As a student at Miller Junior High School, [Dickerson] was called derogatory names by other students. Among their incidents, [Dickerson] found notes in his backpack and taped to his back, calling him, "stupid nigger," "dickass," and "dog."

Other students at Miller Junior High threw food at [Dickerson], stole his school supplies, and spit on his lunch tray.

In or around April 2004, in the spring of Plaintiff's seventh grade year, three students pushed Plaintiff to the floor in the school hallway and smashed a raw egg on his head. On information and belief, only one of the students was disciplined.

His parents complained to the school's administrators. However, the assistant principal suggested that Dickerson should change his style of dress in order to avoid being bullied.

According to the complaint when Dickerson moved onto high school, the name calling intensified. "[He] was called names by other students including: 'nigger,' 'nappy ho,' "Rusty Dickskinner,' 'faggot,' 'gay,' 'Shake-n-Bake,' and 'fat ass heifer.''

The complaint alleges that administrators were also aware of a website "impersonating and mocking [him] and his perceived sexual orientation," but they failed to act. Eventually the school even urged him to stop reporting the harassment. The Dickerson family ignored their suggestion, and continued to file both written and oral complaints as the harassment continued.

Dan Savage, founder of the "It Gets Better Project" told Seattle's KIRO 7 TV, "We need to see more lawsuits like this one," Savage said. "We need to see school administrators, principals, school boards, school districts held accountable for the environment in which students learn.

"It may be for some school districts and some school administrators that until they're writing checks, for large settlements, with students who were harassed in their schools that they won't make the changes that they need to make."

State Representative Marko Liias told me, "This lawsuit illustrates exactly why I am so committed to preventing bullying and harassment in the first place. Our schools need to be spending their time, effort, and money on prevention, so we protect kids and avoid costly litigation before it's too late."

St. Rep. Liias is pushing for legislation in Olympia that will address the bullying issue that would include a state level task force on bullying.

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