Fwd: Safety of Youth in Our Public Schools.....

Melissa Ponder (mponder@edcc.ctc.edu)
Wed, 26 Mar 1997 15:16:08 -0800

>Forwarded message:
>Subj: Safety of Youth in Our Public Schools.....
>Date: 97-03-23 16:17:01 EST

>The Newsletter of the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund
>120 Wall Street, Suite 1500, New York, NY 10005-3904
>(Fax 212/809-0055, Telephone 212/8089-8585
>Volume 14, No.l, Winter 1997
>Patricia M. Logue
> There is nothing like the vindication of a jury verdict. After a two-day
>federal jury trial in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, with Lambda and our cooperating
>attorneys representing Jamie Nabozny, the unanimous view of seven jurors was
>that Jamie's school principals had failed him by closing their eyes to the
>four years of brutal anti-gay abuse Jamie suffered from classmates in the
>Ashland, Wisconsin, schools.
> These seven Midwesterners opened those eyes wide -- and the eyes of
>educators everywhere. In an historic, first-of-its-kind case, the jury found
>that Jamie's public school principals during middle school and high school
>were liable to him for violating his constitutional right to equal protection
>from harm by repeatedly refusing to come to his aid when he was beat up in
>school for being gay.
> Hours after the jury verdict, the two sides reached agreement on a nearly $1
>million settlement, a figure further punctuating the message that there is a
>high price to pay for ignoring abuse of lesbian and gay students. After all,
>Jamie already has paid an excruciating price -- suffering isolation,
>depression, humiliation, loss of his education, psychological and physical
>pain -- as a result of the school officials ignoring his pleas for help.
> Many gay students like him are driven to drop out or attempt suicide as a
>result of harassment in school. Fortunately, Jamie Nabozny has stood up for
>all of them.
> At the November Nabozny v. Podlesny trial, Jamie testified for an emotional
>90 minutes about the years of abuse he suffered, including being shoved into
>a urinal and urinated on, an assault and mock rape in a classroom, and a
>beating so severe he required hospitalization. He described his many futile
>efforts to get the school to intervene. His mother, Carol Nabozny,
>corroborated his story and told the court how school officials repeatedly
>ignored complaints from her and Jamie's father Robert. Jamie's former
>teachers, counselors, and even a classmate who had regularly harassed him
>(but had never been punished) and that young man's mother also took the
>witness stand and verified key parts of Jamie's testimony, including anti-gay
>statements by the defendants in meetings to discuss the assaults. On the
>other side, sadly, the defendants claimed they knew nothing about the problem
>or any of the meetings.
>The pay off: beyond $1 million
> What has been won through Jamie's courage and Lambda's work?
> First, a precedent-setting federal appellate victory, in July 1996, spelled
>out the constitutional obligation of public schools everywhere to treat abuse
>of lesbian and gay students and of boys as seriously as any other abuse.
> Judging from the countless calls Lambda receives from gay youth and their
>parents, it is painfully clear that indifferent and even hostile attitudes
>towards lesbians and gay students are common among school officials, despite
>the dangers posed for the students.
> Second, Lambda's advocacy and Jamie's forthright testimony have cemented in
>the public mind that such abuse should be taken very seriously. Future such
>incidents cannot so easily be swept under the rug without full investigation.
> Lastly, school boards, administrators, and their insurers have taken notice
>of the results of this case and are seeking guidance to avoid similar
>situations. For schools that receive reports of anti-gay abuse, Lambda's
>advice is really quite basic: treat it as seriously as any other type of
>student abuse. What happened to Jamie is not unusual, and no school should
>lose sight of the fact that the harassers, not the gay students, are the
>problem. If classes are to be missed, bus routes changed, schedules altered
>-- it should be those of the perpetrators. This is oversimplified, of
>course, but adopting a zero-tolerance approach will make a world of
> The gay and lesbian community owes a debt of gratitude to Jamie for his
>courage and his outspokenness on behalf of gay youth everywhere. We at
>Lambda also owe thanks to our cooperating attorneys from the Chicago office
>of Skadden, Arps, Alate, Meagher & Flom, particularly lead trial attorney
>David Springer. All of us owe a debt of thanks to seven jurors in Wisconsin.
> These ordinary citizens looked past whatever anti-gay messages had filtered
>down to them over the years and saw this case for what it was, an inexcusable
>failure to stop daily assaults on a student because he was a gay boy.
> Now that the possibility of seven-figure liability and of personal liability
>loom over those asked to address anti-gay student violence, school officials
>everywhere are taking a fresh look at how they should respond. As Jamie
>always says, "I don't care why people do the right thing, as long as they do
>it." The lesson of Jamie's case, indeed, may help more schools and
>communities do the right thing. An hopefully, gay and lesbian students can
>focus on algebra instead of self-defense.


Melissa S.K. Ponder
NW Center for Equity and Diversity
20000 68th Ave. W.
Lynnwood, WA 98036

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