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NJ Civil Settlements

New Hanover school district paid out $70,000 to settle lawsuit filed by student who said nothing was done to prevent her from being physically assaulted and called “whitey” by other students.

On December 19, 2019, Burlington County Assignment Judge Ronald E. Bookbinder approved a $70,000 settlement to resolve a female student’s lawsuit against the New Hanover School District (Burlington County).  The girl, who enrolled in the school district as a third-grader in 2013 and is identified in the lawsuit only by her initials M.S., said that “she was forced to leave school and begin homeschooling in June of 2017” due to having endured years of physical assaults and being called “whitey,” “white b*tch” and “Lesbian” by her fellow students.  According to the suit, other students called her names, kicked her in the stomach, hit her in the face with a water bottle and a ball and threatened to beat her up.

M.S.’s mother, who joined her daughter as a plaintiff in the lawsuit, claimed that she notified Principal Scott Larkin several times about the abuse and even attended a meeting with Larkin and a State Trooper in February 2014 to no avail.  She said that she followed up with then Superintendent Dr. Cassandra Brown and even addressed the Board of Education at a public meeting but “nothing was done to stop the harassment, and the harassment continued.”

According to the complaint, the abuse spilled over to the M.S.’s mother who claimed that she called the police in May 2017 when M.S., who then was a sixth-grader, was allegedly told by other students that the playground was “now a punching ground” and another student chased M.S. down the street.  According to the lawsuit, the mother of the alleged attacker came to M.S.’s mother’s home and called her a “white b*tch” and “white trash.”  The alleged attacker then reportedly wrote a social media post that mocked M.S.’s mother for being afraid of her mother.

The lawsuit claimed that a teacher, Ms. Peterla, told M.S.’s mother in June 2017 that “If your daughter would just keep her mouth shut, we could avoid all these problems.”  According to the lawsuit, M.S.’s mother took both M.S. and her younger sister out of school and homeschooled them.

The case is captioned M.S. v. New Hanover Township School, Docket No. BUR-L-548-18 and girl’s attorney was Drake P. Bearden, Jr. of Mount Laurel.  Case documents are on-line here.

None of lawsuit’s allegations have been proven or disproven in court.  Settlement agreements typically state that payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by any of the defendants.  All that is known for sure is that the New Hanover school district or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay M.S. $70,000 than take the matter to trial. Perhaps the defendant’s decision was done to save further legal expense and the costs of trying what were in fact exaggerated or meritless claims. Or, perhaps the claims were true and the defendants wanted to avoid being embarrassed at trial. This is the problem when cases resolve before trial–it is impossible to know the truth of what really happened.

By John Paff

Chairman of the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project