Protecting All Students

Published: February 24, 2007 NY Times
Like all too many school districts, Toms River, N.J., has done a poor job of protecting gay students from bullying. According to the New Jersey Supreme Court, the district punished students for being one minute late for class, but made harassing another child for being gay punishable only after a third offense.

In a landmark ruling this week, the court unanimously held that public school districts like Toms Riverís are liable for damages if they fail to take reasonable steps to stop prolonged anti-gay harassment of a student by another student. It correctly found that students had a right to be protected against this sort of abuse.

The decision changes the legal landscape in New Jersey, and we hope it will be the start of a new national approach to the problem.

A study by the National Mental Health Association a few years ago found that more than three-quarters of teenagers reported that students who were gay or thought to be gay were teased and bullied in their schools and communities.

The anonymous student who brought the suit against Toms River schools clearly deserved better. He complained of being taunted almost daily from fourth grade on. In high school, he was physically attacked twice, and he said he eventually had to change schools. School administrators disciplined the worst offenders, but failed to address the overall school climate by taking such basic steps as talking to parents and holding student assemblies to make it clear that harassment would not be tolerated.

The courtís ruling provides much-needed support to some of the nationís most vulnerable young people, and it sets a worthy standard for courts and educators nationwide.

Maybe CIVICS ought to include classes in CIVILITY.


"No soul is desolate as long as there is a human being for whom it can feel trust and reverence."
George Eliot