From Clenched Fists to Helping Hands

By Alec Brooks of Kazerouni Law Group, APC on Tuesday, October 18, 2016.

Nostalgia is a lovely distraction from our day-to-day lives. Reminiscing on a life without credit card payments or a coffee addiction is a sure fire way to wind down after battling bumper-to-bumper traffic on your way home. As easy as it can be to drift off and refer to our adolescence as, “The Good Ol’ Days,” maybe they weren’t as worry free as we like to think they were.

Young boys and girls in the United States are faced with an array of anxiety-fueled situations each day. These can range from pressure to perform during standardized testing, to being the only one in their class not able to climb the rope in the gym. While these moments are unnerving and deflating, they’re nowhere near as detrimental, or in some cases life threatening, to our children as bullying can be. 

According to a study at Yale University, children who experience bullying are 7-9 percent more likely to consider suicide. Suicide is reportedly linked to bullying among minors in England 50 percent of the time. ABC news reported that U.S. children are so afraid of bullying at school that 30,000 of them stay at home each day to try and avoid the torment.

A case involving neglective, discriminatory, and bullying behavior was brought to KLG. “Brandon,” a young boy of Mexican descent wasn’t just being made fun of for his clothes, or having signs taped on his back – he was being physically held down, beaten, and berated with racial slurs and epithets. Brandon was diagnosed with depression, bipolar disorder, ADHD, and PTSD all while attempting to learn English as a second language. These circumstances left him like a wounded elk, to be pounced on and torn apart by his peers. 26 percent of Latino students report being bullied in the United States, and among disabled students the number is as high as 60 percent. Brandon fell under the negative statistics of both.

KLG attorneys Matthew M. Loker and Mike Kazerouni wanted to help but they didn’t just want to help Brandon. The two attorneys wanted to help make a systemic change that would benefit all students in similar situations to Brandon. They believed that if they attacked the problem at the root our youth could go back to being afraid of pop quizzes rather than physical harm.

It started with the school. In 2012, Brandon’s civil suit was filed against the School District and its Board of Trustees. The suit alleged that despite numerous complaints and requests for intervention by Brandon and his family to district officials, little to nothing was done. Loker and Kazerouni also believed that the bullying policies the district had in place were discriminatory, antiquated, and neglected the needs of both Latino and disabled students. 

This wasn’t a short case. The attorneys fought for four years through a demurrer and had to wait through a gruelling appellate process. In addition, Loker drove up and down the California coast frequently, interviewing medical and psychological experts to get a firm understanding on the analytics of bullying as well as interviewing experts regarding school procedures. By the time the case was winding down, Loker and Kazerouni were no longer advocating for the 15 year old boy from the beginning of this action, they were fighting on behalf of a 20 year old young man.

The case came to an end last month. Brandon and his family settled their claims, but more importantly the School District will enact changes to its bullying policies, which haven’t been amended since 1996.

“This case was never about the money,” Brandon’s mother said. “It was about ensuring that future families in this district won’t have to experience what we went through, what we’re continuing to go through.” 

The district has now updated its bullying policies to include more specific clauses for when the bullying is race or disability-related. It’s the district’s, as well as our hope that these new policies are more inclusive and don’t leave kids like Brandon as outliers to fend for themselves in the future.

“This case reminded me why I became an attorney,” Loker said. “We had the opportunity to change the way an entire school district views bullying and after four years of litigation we forced that change to occur.”

The justice we received on behalf of Brandon is huge, but at the same time it’s only a fraction of the work that we as a nation still have to achieve. Among all this rhetoric about how great the old days were, and how we all wish things could be the way they used to be, do we stop enough and consider that we all haven’t had the same experiences? We live in a nation where more times than not the response to difference is adversity, or, just plain bullying. We were able to win this battle on behalf of Brandon, but we know the fight isn’t over.

If you or someone you know is a victim of bullying or discriminatory policies please contact us at 800-400-6808, you don’t have to fight alone.

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