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Former student suing school district after enduring years of bullying, harassment

Former student suing school district after enduring years of bullying, harassment
Russell Dickerson

ABERDEEN, Wash. — A 19-year-old graduate of Aberdeen High School has filed a lawsuit against the school district, alleging he endured “severe and persistent harassment” throughout junior high and high school and that school officials were aware of the harassment but failed to take steps end it.

For six years, from 2003 when he entered junior high until 2009 when he graduated high school, Russell Dickerson III alleges he was harassed by other students on the basis of his race, sex, and perceived sexual orientation.

According to the ACLU of Washington, who is representing Dickerson in the suit, “the school district’s failure to act created a hostile educational environment for the student.”

The suit alleges:

As a student at Miller Junior High, Dickerson was called names by other students and found notes in his backpack and taped to his back calling him “stupid nigger” and “dog.” He found notes in his locker and in his school binder with viciously derogatory insults. Students tripped him in the hallways and threw food at him in the cafeteria. …

At Aberdeen High School, the harassment escalated, with Dickerson subjected to derogatory names including “nigger,” “nappy ho,” and “faggot.”

Because he did not fit gender stereotypes for a young man and was perceived by other students to be gay, he endured derisive comments about his physical appearance and suspected sexual orientation. Dickerson suffered physical harassment, with other students pinching and fondling his chest, spitting on his head, and throwing objects at him

The suit also claims that Dickerson and his parents reported the harassment to school administrators, but they “took no steps reasonably aimed at ending it.” Dickerson claims an assistant principal once recommended that he change his style of dress to avoid further harassment.

“I found myself dreading school because I did not know how I was going to be physically harassed, racially harassed, or sexually harassed that day, or by whom,” said Dickerson, in a statement released by the ACLU.

The suit also mentions that in 2007, students created a website mocking Dickerson and his perceived sexual orientation, and posted threatening racist comments on it.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Tacoma, said the district violated the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and state anti-discrimination law.

“The district adamantly denies that the district has allowed any student, including Russell, to be harassed without prompt corrective action being taken,” said Aberdeen Schools Superintendent Dr. Thomas Opstad.

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