On August 2, 2023, the Ocean City Board of Education (Cape May County, NJ) quietly paid $85,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by a seventh grade girl who claimed that school officials did not protect her from pervasive bullying by other students.
In her lawsuit, the then thirteen year old, who is identified only by her initials, claimed that while she was a student at the Ocean City Intermediate School during 2016 to 2018, she was targeted by a group of students who called themselves the “Super Slut Squad.” The group directed racial and sexually derogative slurs toward her, “punched her, threw objects at her, stole items from her locker, attacked her in the girls bathroom and pulled her pants down,” according to the lawsuit.
The girls lawsuit describes the bullying as “severe and unrelenting” that was “perpetuated against her over the course of time throughout the school day and by fellow students through cyber-bullying, text messaging, and in person both mentally and physically.” The girl claimed that the bullying caused her to become suicidal and experience panic attacks.
The girl’s grandparents claimed that when they tried to complain about the harassment to Principal Geoffrey Haines, Haines “would close the door to his office and ignore them when they tried to speak to him.” When they took their complaints to acting Principal Curt Nath, “Nath threw his hands up in the air and said he did not want to hear any of their problems and to get the hell out of the office,” according to the lawsuit. Their attempts to get relief from the Board of Education were also allegedly rebuffed.
The grandparents finally pulled the girl out of the Intermediate School and enrolled her in a private school, according to the lawsuit.
According to the settlement agreement, an annuity firm will receive $53,824.69 of the $85,000 settlement with the remaining $31,175.31 going to her lawyer. The $53,824.69 will be paid out to the girl in 139 monthly installments of $400 each with a lump sum of $15,354.62 being paid out in 2035.
According to the school district’s response to an Open Public Records Act request, Haines retired on February 1, 2023 and Nath currently holds the position of Director of Academic Services at an annual salary of $148,270.
The case is captioned B.S. v. Ocean City School District, et al, Docket No. CPM-L-66-20 and the girl’s attorney was David R. Castellani of Northfield. The lawsuit and settlement agreement are on-line here.
The settlement agreement contains a confidentiality clause, under which the girl agreed that the settlement and its terms and amounts be kept confidential. Fortunately, however, these confidentiality clauses do not trump the public’s right to obtain copies of settlement agreements that arise out of lawsuits in which a government agency or official is a defendant.
None of the girl’s allegations have been proven or disproven in court. Settlement agreements typically state that payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by the Ocean City School District, Haines, Nath or any of its other officials or employees. All that is known for sure is that the school district or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that they would rather pay the girl $85,000 than take the matter to trial. Perhaps their decision to settle 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 settle before trial–it is impossible to know the truth of what really happened.