A Brooklyn federal judge may award $40,000 of the city’s money to the family of a 12-year-old girl autistic girl who was bullied so severely at an Upper East Side public school (PS 6) that the girl’s parents felt compelled to moved her to a state-approved private school in Queens. The sum would represent the cost of that year of private education, considering the school’s failure to provide her a free appropriate public education. According to the Post account of the case, the girl was pushed and tripped “for fun,” verbally abused, and generally suffered inhuman treatment from other students, all of which the principal apparently ignored and refused to discuss with the girl’s parents.
“When a school fails to take reasonable steps to prevent such objectionable harassment of a student, it has denied her an educational benefit protected by statute,” Judge Jack Weinstein wrote. Before fixing a financial penalty, Weinstein will confer with a DOE hearing officer to determine what bullying occurred and how the school handled it, or didn’t. The girl had been placed in a “team-teaching” classroom where both learning-disabled students and others commingled.
The DOE pays about $235 million a year toward private-school education to parents who show that a school failed to meet the standard required for students with disabilities; however, as the Post notes, never before has the city made such a payment on account of bullying. So this ruling, if upheld, would obviously open a potentially very costly door for the city.
Perhaps a narrow exception will apply in cases like this, where the school’s leadership (allegedly) failed miserably to protect the child. But will the bullying necessarily stop if appropriate leadership doesn’t exist at the next school? Eventually, the parents moved the girl to a public school in another district, but it’s unclear if the parents attempted to switch her to a public school before enrolling her at the private institution.
Also, if this case opens the gate to similar claims, how does a court qualify the degree of bullying that justifies transfer to a private school? It’s terrible what the kids did and the principal allegedly didn’t do to protect this child, but it’s a very slippery slope.