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Helmut Schmidt, Published December 16 2010

Deal reached in Fargo schools' bullying case

The Fargo School District has reached a tentative out-of-court agreement with a former student over allegations that he was repeatedly bullied by classmates.

The settlement, not yet signed and finalized, calls for the district to train teachers and staff on how to recognize and deal with bullying, and for programs and curriculum on bullying for students at all grade levels, said Pat Monson, attorney for the plaintiff.

She said she could not comment on the financial aspects of the settlement.

The lawsuit sought unspecified damages in excess of $50,000, according to Cass County District Court documents. Monson said the agreement was reached in mediation on Nov. 30.

She said her client, now 21, thinks it is fair.

“He was very happy,” she said, particularly with the district’s commitment to be more proactive on dealing with bullying in the future.

Tiffany Johnson, attorney for the school district, said no money has been paid in the case yet and that she can’t discuss details of the settlement until it is finalized.

The lawsuit accused the school district of not properly responding to repeated complaints about the bullying and not doing enough to punish the perpetrators.

The lawsuit claimed the student bullying was so common that it was the subject of a Fargo South High School senior skit three years after the student had transferred to Fargo’s Shanley High School, a private Catholic school.

The student did, however, eventually transfer back to a Fargo public school, where he graduated three years ago, Johnson said.

“It’s a very unfortunate situation, and you can’t help but feel badly for the student and the things that occurred,” Fargo schools Superintendent Rick Buresh said.

Buresh said the school district has a team of parents and staff studying and working on ways to deal with bullying, whether in the halls, the playground or online. They also will be working with the former student’s family, he said.

“We have kind of committed to an ongoing dialogue with the family. We want to hear from them and share with them what we’re doing now” to deal with bullying, he said.

A civil trial that was scheduled for next summer has been canceled.

Court filings contend that the harassment began when the plaintiff was in the fourth grade and continued until his transfer to Shanley. The lawsuit claimed the tormenting was physical at times, with the student on many occasions given black eyes and swollen lips by classmates.

Monson said the young man still suffers the emotional effects of the abuse and is dealing with ongoing depression.

“At this point, it appears, this long after the incidents,” it’s likely to continue, Monson said.

She said her client is still in North Dakota and going to school outside of Fargo.

“He’s a great young man and has done well with his life despite what happened to him,” Monson said.


Readers can reach Forum reporter Helmut Schmidt at (701) 241-5583