Settlement hearing set for suit over alleged assaults in Brunswick school
The next phase of a lengthy legal dispute between the Brunswick school system and the family of a former student who allegedly was sexually and physically assaulted at Brunswick Junior High School will likely play out on Aug. 18 in federal court.
The family of the former student, identified as Jack Doe, and the Maine Human Rights Commission filed a lawsuit in federal court charging the town, school department and junior high principal with violating his civil rights. In addition to alleging that the former student was sexually and physically assaulted, the lawsuit claims he was discriminated against based on his gender and sexual orientation while attending the school from 2010 to 2012.
The suit, filed in July 2015, names the Brunswick School Department, town of Brunswick and Brunswick Junior High School Principal Walter Wallace as defendants. It charges that Wallace acted “with actual malice and reckless indifference to federally protected rights of Jane Doe and her child” and failed to adequately respond to the student’s repeated complaints and charges of assault, discrimination and bullying.
The suit alleges that over a period of 2½ years “a group of sexually aggressive and violent male students” harassed the student, called him “gay,” subjected him to several “gay tests,” struck him with a lacrosse stick, stabbed him with a pencil and on three separate occasions sexually assaulted him, then threatened him and his family if he told anyone about the assaults.
An attorney representing the family said by phone this week that information collected since the suit was filed strengthens the case against the town and school department.
In June 2014, the Maine Human Rights Commission voted to uphold its investigator’s report substantiating the complaints and subsequently joined the suit as a plaintiff “to ensure that Brunswick has in place effective measures to prevent a hostile education environment based on sex and sexual orientation,” according to court documents.
Many case documents have been sealed after both parties in December 2015 signed a confidentiality agreement.
Webbert wrote that Wallace allegedly told Jack Doe’s father when he was in seventh grade that junior high kids “are like a wolfpack and they tend to pick on the weak, and I think this is what’s going on with your kid, and maybe you should ask him to tone down his individuality a little bit.”
Webbert wrote that Wallace’s “minimal and belated” responses “were clearly unreasonable in the face of numerous reports of longtime and escalating verbal harassment and physical abuse of Jack by multiple male students,” including being made fun of for being gay more than 30 different times, hit and stuck with a push pin.
Webbert said Wallace admitted in a deposition before the human rights commission that the school’s response to the push pin incident was “in violation of the procedure” for bullying incidents and said Superintendent Paul Perzanoski admitted at his deposition that a written report should have been created.
Webbert said Jack Doe was still enrolled at the school and attending classes “sporadically” when he made the allegations in October 2012 and was subsequently tutored at home.
“We think this case is so strong for us on certain issues, and it’s gotten stronger,” Webbert said.
A mediator will join Magistrate Judge John C. Nivison and attorneys for the two parties at the Aug. 18 conference, Webbert said.