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State panel rules Brunswick Junior High School discriminated against student who was bullied

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State panel rules Brunswick Junior High School discriminated against student who was bullied

BRUNSWICK — The Maine Human Rights Commission on Monday ruled there are reasonable grounds to believe the Brunswick School Department discriminated against a Brunswick Junior High School student.

In a complaint filed in 2012, the student's mother claimed her 13-year-old son was emotionally and physically abused by fellow students for more than two years, and eventually decided to leave BJHS in October 2012.

In a 3-2 vote, commissioners meeting Monday in Augusta upheld conclusions reached by MHRC investigator Victoria Ternig, and contained in a report released in June.

In her report, Ternig found that the School Department "allowed a hostile education environment to persist for a lengthy period of time," and that the student was discriminated against on the basis of his "perceived sexual orientation and sex."

The abuse against the student continued despite the school's efforts to stop and prevent it, Ternig found. 

In a statement issued following Monday's ruling, Superintendent of Schools Paul Perzanoski said the department was "extremely disappointed" by the commission's vote and "wholeheartedly" disagreed with the decision.

"Contrary to the conclusion, Brunswick Junior High School took the complaints seriously and moved quickly and decisively to respond to complaints that were brought to the school's attention," Perzanoski said.

The school will continue to take measures to combat bullying and harassment at BJHS, Perzanoski said.

"We will continue to review our procedures and practices on this issue and also continue our school-wide assemblies, staff trainings and peer mediation," he added.

MHRC Executive Director Amy Sneirson said Monday afternoon that the commission's decision means the two parties and MHRC have 90 days to negotiate a settlement.

If the parties are unable to reach an agreement within that time, the complainant and MHRC are allowed to file a civil lawsuit in the case, Sneirson said.

Peter L. McGuire can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or pmcguire@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter @mcguiremidcoast.