by Donna Martinez
Former Senior Writer and Editor, John Locke Foundation
The North Carolina Supreme Court has handed down a fascinating decision in a case of egregious bullying of autistic kids who attended a public school in Pitt County. On Friday, a unanimous court ruled that schools can be sued for their failure to stop harassment.
Chief Justice Paul Newby wrote the 16-page opinion. It allows a family with three students to proceed with a lawsuit against the Pitt County school board and the State Board of Education. Two of the children are autistic. The suit contends that school officials’ indifference to ongoing harassment of the students violated their constitutional rights.
The Supreme Court’s ruling reverses the state Appeals Court’s 2-1 decision in the case. The Appeals Court would have blocked the lawsuit from moving forward.
“Where a government entity with control over the school is deliberately indifferent to ongoing harassment that prevents a student from accessing his constitutionally guaranteed right to a sound basic education, the student has a colorable claim under the North Carolina Constitution,” Newby wrote.
Locke’s Mitch Kokai joined me on News Radio 680 WPTF to explain the ruling. LISTEN to what happened to these kids:
The ruling is about one particular set of circumstances, but could this ruling have far-reaching effects? Could other parents make claims and cite this ruling? It depends, according to Kokai. LISTEN:
In the ruling, Chief Justice Paul Newby cites the constitutional underpinnings of the decision.
“Article I, Section 15 places an affirmative duty on the government ‘to guard and maintain that right’ [to education],” he wrote. “Taken together, Article I, Section 15 and Article IX, Section 2 require the government to provide an opportunity to learn that is free from continual intimidation and harassment which prevent a student from learning. In other words, the government must provide a safe environment where learning can take place.”
The question now is whether the parents will move forward with a lawsuit.