CHAZ WING types labels for electronic equipment he fixes and sells at a flea market in Brunswick in this March 18 photo.

CHAZ WING types labels for electronic equipment he fixes and sells at a flea market in Brunswick in this March 18 photo.

BRUNSWICK

Brunswick School Superintendent Paul Perzanoski said his department and the school board are “saddened” over an Associated Press article published Monday about sexual assault in schools that prominently featured a former Brunswick student who sued the district for discrimination.

In a complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Portland, Chaz Wing said in 2011, at age 12, that he was cornered, beaten and raped in a school bathroom — a culmination of increasingly hostile behavior directed at him by four or more male students who were described as sexually aggressive and violent.

PAUL PERZANOSKI

PAUL PERZANOSKI

Wing said he reported the harassment to the principal and three other teachers while he was a student at Brunswick Junior High School, but contended his claims of harassment were not treated with the same validity and seriousness as reports made by female students. An attitude of “boys will be boys” was presented to the Wing family, he said, and the filing said two other male students complained of similar treatment.

The abuse persisted for two years, and included one instance of being cut with a knife and three instances of sexual assault, court documents stated.

The sexual assaults were not reported until after a year, due to Wing’s fear of retaliation, according to the filings. Wing, who is now almost 18, according to the AP, was later home-schooled.

In July 2015, Wing filed a federal discrimination lawsuit against the district, which was settled in November for $125,000. The bulk of the settlement went toward lawyers’ fees, and the remaining $50,000 set aside for Wing’s college fund. The Maine Human Rights Commission investigated the case and joined the suit, finding reasonable grounds Wing was discriminated against by the school.

Abiding by legal counsel’s advice, the school department, in a letter posted on the district’s website, said they have chosen not to comment on the story because it involved children whose right to confidentiality is protected by state and federal law.

The AP reported that, as part of if its research, reporters reviewed about 1,500 pages of sworn testimony, emails, court documents and investigative reports, as well as videotaped depositions of 15 school administrators, teachers and police, and interviews with a dozen people tied to the case.

However, Perzanoski, who signed the letter, stated “the article is disturbing because it gives credibility to unfounded allegations in a misguided attempt to illustrate the very real problem of harassment and sexual assault.”

Perzanoski said all allegations of sexual harassment and abuse were taken with the utmost gravity including this case, and that all allegations in this case have been investigated thoroughly by the school district, local police and district attorney and charges were not filed.

“We always have and always will respond diligently to any reports or allegations of harassment or assault in school — we consider this our duty morally and legally,” Perzanoski wrote.

Perzanoski said the school board decided to settle the case because going to trial would put students and staff in a protracted legal case that would be detrimental to all parties, and the financial cost would have exceeded the settlement cost.

“The settlement was not an admission of guilt,” he said.

Terms of the settlement reached by Wing and the district require a number of actions be taken by the school to protect future students from bullying and harassment, including establishing a centralized digital system for keeping records of bullying incidents. The record kept will include reports deemed “unsubstantiated” as well, according to the settlement terms. The data will also be monitored for trends, such as if there is a single perpetrator, and surveys of students and faculty will be conducted regarding bullying at the junior high school. The district is also required to continue to provide in-person annual training about measures to report and stop peer-on-peer bullying, including conduct that involves sexual stereotyping.

Perzanoski said the database allows cross referencing to identify a pattern of behavior, as compared to a pen and paper system that is more cumbersome. The superintendent said the district has also updated its Title IX policy and affirmative action procedures. He said bullying training was a regular process provided to staff as part of professional development before the settlement.

“One of the issues in this case was the school saying that they handled each instance of bullying sort of as a separate matter with regard to the family at issue,” Maine Human Rights Commission Executive Director Amy Sneirson said in a previous interview. “And our thought was that if someone had put different incidents together, maybe they would have seen a pattern. So hopefully this is something that would in the future let the Brunswick School Department do that.”

Other requirements of the settlement are the establishment of a Gay-Straight Alliance at the school and annual reports on its effort to prevent bullying.

Perzanoski and Brunswick School Board Chairwoman Joy Prescott said requirements have been met and that many are continuing practices. The oversight to ensure the district is abiding by the terms of the agreement is the responsibility of the district’s attorney, Melissa Hewey, and the Maine Human Rights Commission.

When asked if there was anything the school should have done differently in responding to Wing’s reports, Prescott said she did not want to go into further detail about the case because of confidentiality issues surrounding it. Prescott said staff works proactively every day to ensure the schools in the district are safe, inclusive and welcoming for all learners.

“You always learn something, no matter what you go through,” Perzanoski said, when asked what the district has learned as a result of this case. “Things that we’ve learned don’t have anything to do with the case itself, it’s more to do with dealing with people’s perceptions.”

The case was reviewed by the Cumberland County District Attorney’s Office, no charges against the named assailants were brought. A message left for the DA’s Office seeking explanation for the decision was not immediately returned Tuesday.

The school department has been adamant that no wrongdoing occurred and that school officials acted properly.

“This is a difficult decision for me, and initially I did not support the idea of settling the case at all, let alone contributing funds to the settlement,” Perzanoski said earlier this year. “I felt, and still feel, that we need to stand up for our employees because we know they did not do anything wrong. But we know that they are dedicated professionals who treat bullying issues seriously, and that many of the things alleged against them are false.”

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THE ASSOCIATED PRESS and The Times Record do not normally publish the names of alleged victims of sexual assault. In this case, the subject’s name was only published after he decided to go public with his story.


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