On September 20, 2023, Superior Court Judge Anne McDonnell approved a $30,000 settlement in favor of a Paulsboro Junior High School student who claimed that he suffered “unrelenting harassment, intimidation, and bullying” by a group of students during his 2018-19 school year and that school officials did nothing to stop it.

The father of the student claimed that he met personally with both Assistant Principal John Giovannitti and Guidance Counselor Melba Moore-Suggs about the continuing harassment his son, who is identified in court filings only by his initials H.W., was suffering. Instead of taking action against the bullies, the father was advised to have his son avoid and ignore the bullying, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit claimed that the bullying persisted and even intensified, with H.W. often being blamed for the harassment. On March 22, 2019, H.W. was reportedly brutally assaulted twice by the same bullies in the school hallway, in full view of several teachers who allegedly did nothing to intervene leaving other students to stop the violence. The assaults involved H.W. being “repeatedly struck in the head and upper back . . . [and having his] head slammed into a wall.” The beatings were so severe as to cause H.W. to lose consciousness and requiring him to be transported by ambulance to Inspira Hospital in Woodbury, according to court filings.

The settlement order notes that H.W. and his father dismissed the suit against Giovannitti, Moore-Suggs and other individual defendants and proceeded only against the school and the school board. Of the $30,000, H.W.’s lawyers will receive $7,336.50, leaving, after other expenses, $22,009.50 to H.W. Since H.W. is a minor, the $22,009.50 will be held in trust by the Gloucester County Surrogate.

The case is captioned H.W. v. Paulsboro Board of Education, et al, Docket No. GLO-L-302-21 and the plaintiff was represented by Emily A. McDonough of Woodstown. The civil lawsuit and settlement order are in a combined PDF file on-line here.

None of H.W.’s allegations have been proven or disproven in court. Settlements typically states that payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Paulsboro or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that the Paulsboro school district or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay H.W. $30,000 than take the matter to trial. Perhaps the defendants’ 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.

Chairman of the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project. Please send all comments to [email protected]