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Zack King speaks with the press.
Bullied gay student Zack King has reached a settlement with an Ohio school board in a suit prompted by an October 2011 incident in which he was beaten at school. A videotape of the assault went viral on the Internet and brought fresh attention to the problem of bullying in the schools.
Randy Ludlow reports in the Columbus Dispatch that a Ross County school district will pay up to $35,000 and improve its anti-bullying policies in a settlement with King.
On October 17, 2011, the Unioto, Ohio high school freshman was viciously attacked by a classmate who had previously taunted him for being gay. Video of the attack, which was recorded with a cellphone by another student and later posted online, went viral on the Internet and shocked the conscience of viewers around the world.
When it was learned that no one came to King's aid and that the attacker had been punished only by a three-day suspension, outrage grew and there were calls for the police to investigate the attack. Many viewers of the video described the assault as a hate crime.
In response, the school reviewed the original punishment given to the attacker and reportedly increased it. However, citing privacy concerns, school officials refused to specify the disciplinary actions that were taken.
After the outcry, police charged the fifteen-year-old attacker with misdemeanor assault. The student pled guilty and was sentenced to 90 days in a juvenile detention center.
The attack on King was by no means the first time he had been physically and verbally abused at school. His mother repeatedly reported these attacks to school officials but they did little or nothing.
After the attack in October, King and his mother asked the ACLU for help.
On November 15, 2011, the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio delivered Unioto High School officials the legal equivalent of an ultimatum: meet with the ACLU to discuss ways to curb bullying or face a lawsuit.
The ACLU's letter accused the school district of being "derelict in its responsibility to provide a safe learning environment" for King.
In the settlement approved on July 19, 2012, the district admitted no wrongdoing, but agreed to develop "acceptable polices to address the alleged intolerant behavior . . . against LGBT students," create an effective complaint program, and train staff on "cultural understanding" of harassment of LGBT students.
In addition, the school district's insurer will pay $20,000 in damages to King and his mother, provide up to $10,000 in reimbursement for medical and counseling expenses, and pay $5,000 in legal fees to the ACLU.
James Hardiman, a Cleveland lawyer and the legal director of the ACLU of Ohio, said, "We hope similarly situated students don't have to go through what Zach went through. The school district has made a commitment to try to avoid incidents like this in the future."
The school district lawyer, Rick Ross of Columbus, called the assault on King "very unfortunate," but said the district does not believe it contributed to the incident. "They're reviewing their processes and want to put this behind them," Ross said. "They are interested in protecting the safety of all students."
We hope that the lesson taken by the school district and, indeed, by all school districts, from this incident is that neglecting to protect glbtq students can be expensive as well as embarrassing.
We also hope that victims of bullying can take some comfort from the knowledge that fighting back sometimes yields something approaching justice.
In the video below, from November 14, 2011, Zack King and his mother address the incident and announce plans to pursue legal action against the district.