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School district wants bullying lawsuit tossed

The Clark County School District has asked a judge to throw out a lawsuit that accused Henderson’s Greenspun Middle School staff and district officials of failing to take action when two boys were bullied.

But the American Civil Liberties Union said arguments in the motion are another sign that the district wants to shirk its responsibilities when students are harassed. The ACLU filed the complaint in April on behalf of the boys’ mothers, Mary Bryan and Aimee Hairr.

Both boys allege they were sexually, physically and verbally harassed by other students for months. According to the lawsuit, filed in Clark County District Court, school officials did little to help them and school police discouraged their families from lodging complaints.

In a 34-page motion to dismiss the lawsuit, the district’s lawyers said school officials “teach students to treat each other with dignity and respect. But despite best efforts, there can be no guarantee that every student will always have optimal interactions with every other student.”

The motion further states that the district “did not have an obligation to protect (the boys) from private actors.”

In response to the motion, ACLU lawyer Allen Lichtenstein said school officials “essentially are washing their hands of the matter, stating that it’s not their responsibility to protect children in their schools from being bullied by other children.”

“The idea that the Clark County School District does not have a legal responsibility to protect children it knows are being bullied from being further bullied is something that I believe most people in Nevada would find both an affront to common sense and common decency,” Lichtenstein said. “It also is clearly in violation of Nevada statutes that require safe schools.”

Attorney Daniel Polsenberg, who represents the district in the case, could not be reached.

The boys, who were 13 at the time, claimed they were shoved, called homophobic names and stabbed with trombones in band class during a six-month period that began in August 2011. One of them was stabbed in the groin with a pencil and required medical attention, while the other contemplated suicide, according to the lawsuit.

According to the district’s motion, children use homophobic slurs “for shock value, not in a sexual manner.” District lawyers further argued that there is no evidence that the boys were harassed because of their gender or “perceived sexual orientation.”

“Assuming these allegations are true,” the motion states, “this type of offensive language is often used by immature teenagers, but there is no guarantee it is meant literally, as these terms may be used interchangeably with other crude, school-yard insults.”

District Judge Nancy Allf has scheduled a July 31 hearing on the motion.

The lawsuit was filed four months after the death of White Middle School student Hailee Lamberth, who committed suicide after being bullied. Her father, Jason Lamberth, said the school district failed to tell the girl’s family that another student had harassed her weeks before her suicide.

In a federal lawsuit filed earlier this month, a mother said her daughter was harassed at Wynn Elementary School because she is black.

During an October 2012 field trip, according to the lawsuit, a chaperone named Mega “yelled, screamed and berated” the girl after another child said she was pushed. The girl believed she was wrongly singled out because of her race.

Later, Principal Ellen Bordinhao mistakenly told the girl she would be moved to another school, which caused the girl to cry.

“This type of mental abuse is unacceptable,” the lawsuit states. “CCSD’s blatant refusal to redress and correct the situation shocks the conscience and offends the Nevada community’s sense of fair play and decency.”

The girl’s mother, Sheena Hathorn, filed a bullying report, but the school district “failed to take any meaningful corrective measures,” according to the lawsuit.

Spokeswoman Melinda Malone said the district does not comment on pending litigation.

Contact reporter David Ferrara at 702-380-1039 or dferrara@reviewjournal.com. Find him on Twitter: @randompoker.

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