This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
A recent judgment by the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas may be a good sign for victims of student-on-student bullying.
Late last month, the court awarded $500,000 plus attorney’s fees and other costs to Amanda Wible, a student who said she had suffered severe bullying in four District schools. The court found that District administrators violated the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, the state’s anti-discrimination law.
Kevin Golembiewski of Berney & Sang, the law firm representing the plaintiff, said this is the first time the state had ruled that a student-on-student bullying claim can be brought against a school district.
With this precedent, students can seek retribution through the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission instead of filing a federal Title IX complaint, which can be more costly and difficult.
“This basically just shows that Pennsylvania is up with the times,” said Golembiewski. “It’s not any kind of really progressive development. Other states have been holding school districts accountable for gender-based harassment and discrimination for years.”
According to court documents, Wible was a student at Robert B. Pollock Elementary School in the fall of 2003 when she began getting bullied and harassed by students for her gender presentation, which leaned more toward male than female.
The taunts became sexualized and eventually led to physical assault from a male student. Pollock suspended the student but didn’t address the other harassment. Despite Wible’s mother informing the school, the judge said, “effective efforts by Pollock to remedy this situation were non-existent.”
Wible faced similar bullying at Alternative Middle Years at James Martin School, C.C.A. Baldi Middle School, and George Washington High School, until Wible’s mother removed her from school and enrolled her into a cyber charter school.
For years, Wible was severely bullied, harassed, and even abused. In one instance, while at AMY, she was assaulted by 10 students. Still, despite being informed by her mother, the school did not make efforts to remedy the situation, according to court documents.
As a result, Wible suffers from depression, anxiety, and amplified musculoskeletal pain syndrome, a disorder that causes abnormal pain in the body. Also, Wible, who is 20, will require therapy on a weekly basis until she is at least 25.
The District had no comment on the case because it is “pending litigation,” but it has made efforts in recent years to changes its policies and practices on bullying.
In a statement from spokesman Lee Whack, District officials reiterated that “we are committed to confronting bullying head on” and they “encourage students and families to contact us when they have concerns.”
The District’s hotline for bullying is 215-400-SAFE.