Justice Department Settlement in Bullying and Harassment Case

Really good news:

A year after more than two dozen Asian American students were attacked at a high school in South Philadelphia, the Justice Department has reached an agreement with school officials there, resolving a high-profile investigation into school bullying.

The Philadelphia incident, which involved a day-long assault on the students and sent 13 to the hospital, was one of several glaring cases of school harassment across the country last year. The attack made international news when it triggered an eight-day boycott by Asian American students, many of them recent immigrants, who said they would not return to school until they felt safe.

Justice Department officials signaled that the agreement with the School District of Philadelphia, which requires the district to hire a consultant focused on preventing harassment and discrimination, will serve as a nationwide standard for school systems trying to prevent bullying. Student-on-student harassment is an increasing problem and makes up a growing portion of the cases under investigation by Justice.

“We intend to use every tool in our law enforcement arsenal to stamp out harassment and bullying in the schools,” said Thomas Perez, chief of Justice’s civil rights division. “School districts are accountable for creating policies, practices and a climate of inclusion and . . . if a school district deliberately ignores instances of harassment” based on race or sexual orientation, he said, “they do so at their peril.”

The Justice Department agreement, which is similar to one the school reached with the Pennsylvania Human Rights Commission, requires Philadelphia schools to develop a plan for preventing bullying; conduct training to increase multicultural awareness; and maintain records of harassment. The settlement agreement, which must be approved by a Philadelphia federal court, will remain in effect until June 2013.

The emphasis is mine.  Given the national attention bias-motivated harassment and bullying have gotten over the last few months, this is an important development in ensuring that school districts not only know that they have to address this problem but how to do so.

The whole piece is definitely worth reading, but dig this:

Members of the Asian student group praised the agreement and said they hoped it would bring attention to gay and lesbian students who have been harassed arcross the country. “Many . . . have committed suicide because nobody spoke up against bullying. We hope that we can share this victory with all those students who have been victims of bias,” the students said.

These are kids who have been through a horrific ordeal and yet they understand the significance of the Justice Department settlement – a settlement that exists in no small part due to their own advocacy.  It’s really quite remarkable.