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District settles bullying lawsuit

CHESAPEAKE — In what one attorney calls a “David and Goliath story,” a former student has won a bullying lawsuit against the Chesapeake Local School District where he said he was harassed for years.

The $300,000 settlement, Ken Myers, Cleveland-based attorney for the plaintiff said, shows school districts should be held responsible for how students are treated while on campus.

“All school districts have to take bullying seriously,” Myers said. “We believe that this settlement indicates there is some level of accountability.”

The district will be required to provide in-service anti-bullying training to its staff, publicize all anti-bullying polices and all allegations of bullying must be reported to the superintendent, after which time an investigation would follow.

The case was filed in 2011 by Joseph Galloway, a former Chesapeake student, who, according to the lawsuit, was diagnosed with Asperger’s Disorder, ADHD, a seizure disorder and a learning disability.

Galloway attended Chesapeake Middle School starting in 2005 and attended the high school from 2008-2011. The complaint stated Galloway was discriminated against based on his disabilities for the duration of his time as a student in the district.

The 17-page complaint, filed in Cincinnati’s federal court, goes into detail about Galloway’s harassment, describing how other students would hide or break his belongings, shove him, rub their genitals on his back or pull his pants down.

The complaint also said other students called Galloway “seizure boy” and mimicked his seizures.

In addition to bullying by students, the lawsuit claimed teachers and administrators were aware of the harassment, and in most cases, allowed it to continue.

When the suit was filed in 2011, then middle school teacher Jeannie Harmon, along with former superintendents Sam Hall and Scott Howard, and high school principal Joseph Rase, were named as defendants.

According to the suit, Harmon “continued to quiz Joseph in front of the entire class about the validity of his seizure disorder” and told his parents at a parent-teacher conference that the boy was “a nuisance to teach and that he was lazy.”

“One of the things that Joseph wanted out of this case was for the facts to come out so that what happened to him wouldn’t happen to other kids,” Myers said. “He wanted some measure of accountability. … He’s a very brave young man because it takes a lot of guts to go through what he went through on a regular basis at Chesapeake and then go through the time and expense and emotion of filing a federal lawsuit.”

Also as part of the settlement, the Lawrence County Joint Vocational School District, also a defendant in the case, agreed to pay $22,500.

Galloway took a Project Lead the Way class at Chesapeake and was not on the vocational school’s campus.

Superintendent Steve Dodgion said the amount was set by the district’s liability insurance.

“Basically, that figure is considered a nuisance fee,” Dodgion said. “The company felt like it would save money. It would cost much more to go to court.”

Dodgion reiterated none of the incidents outlined in the lawsuit took place at the vocational school.

“None of the things happened on our watch,” he said. “We’re glad it’s over. At the same time, none of the allegations we are guilty of.”

Bernard Wharton, Cincinnati-based attorney for the Chesapeake district, was not available for comment as of presstime.