It’s always good when you can learn from your own mistakes, but even better when you can learn from the mistakes of others. Such a learning opportunity has been presented to every school system in the state by the Brunswick School District, which has paid $125,000 to settle a human rights lawsuit filed by the family of a former student who had been bullied.

More significant than the cash is the blow this case delivers to the reputation of Brunswick Junior High School and the people in charge, who had the best intentions and thought they were doing all the right things, but still failed in the most important task for school administrators: keeping every student safe.

As part of the settlement, Brunswick has committed to an anti-bullying regime that includes not only staff training and student assemblies, but also the creation of a junior high school Gay Straight Alliance and a bullying tracking system, which will make it harder for school officials to mistake a hostile educational environment for a series of isolated incidents. Other school districts should not wait for a similar lawsuit before examining their own programs and determining if they are doing everything they can to ensure there is a safe learning environment for every student.

The boy, known in court documents as “Jack Doe,” charges that he was picked on from 2010 to 2012 by a group of junior high classmates, who subjected him to verbal and physical harassment because they perceived him to be gay. The boy and his parents complained to school officials, who looked into each incident, but, according to an investigation by the Maine Human Rights Commission, they did not recognize a pattern. The panel found in 2014 that administrators failed “to look at the overall picture of what was happening … (and) allowed a hostile education environment to persist for a lengthy period of time.”

This was more than just teasing. The boy’s grades and scores on standardized tests plummeted. He missed many days of school, and when his mother told him he needed to attend a meeting with the principal about his situation, he had a panic attack. He was diagnosed with depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. Ultimately, he had to stop attending Brunswick Junior High School.

This case highlights the challenges faced by teachers and school administrators.

Most of the conduct that led to the complaint occurred in restrooms or by lockers and out of the sight of adults, and some incidents even took place away from school entirely. But the stigma and threats from those situations carried over to the classroom, and should have been addressed by school officials.

It’s good for the district and the family to finally have this matter behind them. It’s also good for other educators to know what’s expected of them when it comes to preventing bullying.

The circumstances described in this case are horrifying, but they are certainly not unique. Every school administrator should be questioning whether they are doing all they can to prevent something like this from happening in their school.

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