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School Bullying Cases: Charges and a Settlement

School bullying is in the news as a Massachusetts prosecutor yesterday charged nine teenagers--and criticized the response of school officials--over bullying that allegedly led a 15-year-old student to commit suicide in January.

The Boston Globe reports today: "With sharp words and a strikingly aggressive prosecutorial stance, authorities yesterday spelled out a litany of charges against nine teenagers accused of subjecting 15-year-old South Hadley student Phoebe Prince to months of tortuous harassment before she hanged herself in a stairwell at home."

The newspaper posted the detailed press conference statement of Northwestern (Mass.) District Attorney Elizabeth Scheibel on the case.

Charges filed in the case include statutory rape, criminal harassment, violation of civil rights, stalking, and disturbance of a school assembly. The nine students had not made any public response to the charges as of Monday.

The district attorney said the response of officials at South Hadley High School to reports of the bullying was "troublesome" but did not amount to criminal behavior. An associate superintendent of the South Hadley public schools said in a statement reported today by The New York Times that school officials planned to meet with the district attorney's office to review information that did not come to light in the school district's own investigation.

Meanwhile, in a separate bullying case, a New York state school district has settled a lawsuit filed over the alleged harassment of a gay student.

The student, identified as J.L., alleged in a lawsuit backed by the New York Civil Liberties Union that officials of the Mohawk Central School District were deliberately indifferent to harassment he faced as a 9th grader in the district.

The U.S. Department of Justice had sought to intervene in the case on the plaintiff's side, citing "important issues" raised by the case in relation to the enforcement of federal civil rights laws.

The school distirct denied any wrongdoing in settling the case, but it agreed to pay $50,000 to the student, plus attorneys' fees and costs for counseling sessions. The district will review its policies regarding harassment based on sex, gender identity, and sexual orientation, and it will offer training to its staff members on identifying harassment.

The NYCLU has this statement and a copy of the settlement.

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