Family Settles Bullying Lawsuit with Penn. School District for $45K

The lawsuit alleges the student was verbally and physically bullied and was told she had a "disease" because she was a lesbian.
Published: December 18, 2017

The Bangor Area School District has agreed to pay $45,000 to a family who says their daughter was relentlessly bullied for years over her sexual orientation.

The family sought $150,000 but settled out of court with the district and its insurance company in October, according to Lehigh Valley Live.

The lawsuit was originally filed in federal court in 2015 on behalf of Russell and Tammy Bittenbender and named eight different girls by initials only as the bullies.

According to the suit, the bullying started during the 2008-2009 school year when the Bittenbender’s daughter was in the third grade at Points Elementary School. In the fourth grade, the suit alleges girls on the softball team put her belongings in a trashcan and put garbage in her gym bag.

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The suit alleged the softball coach, who was the father of one of the girls named in the lawsuit, was aware of the bullying but did nothing to stop it. It also alleged Bittenbender’s daughter told a school guidance counselor about the bullying but the district did not investigate, according to The Morning Call.

The Bittenbender’s made the decision to transfer their daughter to DeFranco Elementary School in the fifth grade and informed the principal of her past bullying. The bullying continued, however, and she was “called offensive terms and pushed because she did not conform to the harassers’ perception of female gender norms,” U.S. District Judge Lawrence Stengel wrote in a court memorandum.

A teacher discovered the student crying on the floor of a stairwell after she was allegedly pushed down the stairs by another student. Following the incident, the Bittenbender’s daughter addressed the school board directly, created a club to support other bullied students, and wrote a newspaper article about her experience but there was still no investigation by the district.

Lawsuit: Student Called Derogatory Names, Told to Kill Herself

In the seventh grade, the student was pushed down in the locker room and called a lesbian. One student stated, “We know where you live. We’ll burn your house down and kill your dog,” according to the lawsuit.

In the eighth grade during field hockey practice, the bullies reportedly said to her, “You have a disease because you’re a lesbian,” and “Get out of our hair. Why don’t you go hang yourself?”

The family admitted their daughter to the Lehigh Valley Hospital’s behavioral health unit for 10 days after she threatened suicide to the principal and guidance counselors. The suit alleged bullies spread the rumor that she missed those 10 days of school because she contracted a sexually transmitted disease.

When she returned, the school put together a safety plan that the parents say was inadequate. One teacher was assigned as her escort between periods but questioned whether it was necessary. A second escort was assigned and says the bullies would lay in wait for the chance to attack her when an escort wasn’t present.

District solicitor Donald Spry says the safety plan showed the district took the harassment seriously and claims officials asked the police to look into the bullying.

The Bittenbender’s eventually made the decision to move to New Jersey to escape the bullying.

“She would like to see the school not only held accountable but to ultimately effect a change in our laws so that LGBT students can focus on learning rather than fearing for their own safety,” the family’s attorney wrote in the lawsuit on behalf of the Bittenbender’s daughter.

Under the settlement, the school district did not admit fault or liability and both sides agreed not to discuss the lawsuit further.

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