Brunswick School Department pushes back against school assault story

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BRUNSWICK — The School Department defended itself Tuesday against what it called “unfounded allegations” in an Associated Press investigation published Monday that spotlighted new details in a 2015 bullying lawsuit the district settled for $125,000 last fall.

The article accuses the district of mishandling responding to over 50 incidents of bullying and harassment – including three sexual assaults – against Chaz Wing, who attended Brunswick Junior High School between 2010 and 2012.

The investigative reporters used Brunswick to illustrate a similar trend it found across the nation’s schools after the Associated Press investigated approximately 17,000 official reports of sexual assaults by students over the course of a year.

Superintendent Paul Perzanoski, who has repeatedly defended the district’s handling of the bullying and the lawsuit, questioned the basis of the article’s claims in a letter to the school community Tuesday.

“This new article is particularly disturbing because it seems to give credibility to unfounded allegations in a misguided attempt to illustrate the very real problem of harassment and sexual assault,” he wrote.

He noted that when the school settled in November, the terms stipulated that the settlement did not constitute a state of guilt by the school department.

A charge against Brunswick Junior High School Principal Walter Wallace was also dropped as a condition of the settlement, which required the school to implement new anti-bullying policies in addition to the monetary sum.

At that time, Perzanoski and School Board Chairman Billy Thompson denied district employees or Wallace mishandled the incidents, or that the three sexual assaults ever occurred.

Perzanoski declined to comment Wednesday on the content of his letter or the AP story.

In an email Wednesday, the AP said it stands by its reporting. The article was authored by Robin Mcdowell, Reese Dunklin, Emily Schmall and Justin Pritchard.

Until the article’s publication, Wing’s identity and his firsthand account of his experiences had been absent from the story.

Wing, 17, describes in the article being raped three times by students his age, attacks that left him physically injured but chose not to report until months after they’d occurred for fear of retribution.

However, Wing said he repeatedly reported daily abuse – most of which focused on his appearance and perceived sexual orientation – and yet the school failed to stop the abuse from occurring.

The AP reporters argue “that school administrators allowed Chaz’s bullying to escalate and then failed to adequately investigate his allegations of sexual abuse.”

They draw attention to incidents such as when Wing recalled a teacher told him not to worry about homophobic taunts because he wasn’t gay.

It also states that Wallace “thought Chaz was becoming overly sensitive and made many reports teachers could not substantiate,” and that the district’s lawyers doubted and sought to undermine Wing’s testimony after his mother brought charges.

The Maine Human Rights Commission catalogued those incidents in a 2014 investigation and joined Wing’s mother in suing the district the following June.

Based on their investigation of Brunswick and national state educational records, the authors claim Wing’s story fits into a larger trend that schools are inadequately equipped or are ineffectively handling and tracking incidents of sexual assaults, many of which go unreported.

Callie Ferguson can be reached at 781-3661, ext. 100, or cferguson@theforecaster.net. Follow Callie on Twitter: @calliecferguson.

Chaz Wing reports a story for his internship at a radio station in Brunswick. Wing spoke out in a May 1 Associated Press article about his experience as the subject of a lawsuit against the Brunswick junior high school, where he described being bullied and sexually assaulted between 2010-2012. The district pushed back against the story Tuesday.

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Reporting on municipal, school, and community news in Brunswick and Harpswell. Bowdoin graduate, Wild Oats sandwich-eater. Callie can be reached at 207-781-3661 ext. 100, or cferguson@theforecaster.net.