Philly school district settles bullying case

Philadelphia school-district officials have settled the lawsuit filed by Amanda  Wible, a former public school student who maintains she suffered severe bullying because she’s gender nonconforming.

Terms of the settlement haven’t been publicly released. On Jan. 17, PGN filed a state Right-to-Know Law request seeking the dollar amount the district paid to Wible and her attorneys. As of presstime, the request remained pending.

Wible attended public schools in the city between September 2003-13 and said she suffered unlawful bullying by several classmates beginning in 2008, according to court records.

In April 2015, Wible filed suit against the district, citing numerous slurs and acts of violence directed at her due to her gender-nonconformity. Those slurs included “lesbo,” “f—-t,” “it,” “b—h,” “d–e,” “she-he,” “homo,” “freak,” “t—-y,” “she-male,” and “weirdo.” 

“From elementary school to ninth grade, Amanda had to endure violent, severe and pervasive sexual harassment to access an education,” Wible’s attorneys wrote in a court filing. “Because she did not conform to stereotypes about how girls should act and dress, peers terrorized her” 

Wible’s suit alleged that bullies punched her, pulled her hair, broke her glasses, vandalized her school supplies, stabbed her with a pencil, ripped up her classwork, spat on her, threw food at her, placed a trash can on her head, pushed her into a locker and ripped off some of her clothing. 

Wible and her mother repeatedly complained about the abuse, but school authorities failed to implement corrective measures, according to Wible’s lawsuit. In 10th grade, Wible transferred out of the district to a cyber-charter school. She couldn’t be reached for comment.

In court papers, defense attorneys denied that school officials were aware of Wible being subjected to systemic harassment and bullying. They also argued that a school district can’t be held liable for student-on-student bullying under the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act.

But in May 2018, Philadelphia Common Pleas Judge Gene D. Cohen ruled that Wible was subjected to unlawful harassment and bullying. He wrote that the district was responsible for sex discrimination in a public accommodation, which is prohibited by the PHRA. It’s believed to be the first time a court held a school district liable for student-on-student bullying under the act.

In his 11-page ruling, Cohen wrote: “The school district acted with deliberate indifference to the discrimination and bullying suffered by [Wible].” The judge added that Wible suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, for which she receives psychiatric care.

Cohen awarded Wible $500,000 in damages and $578,000 to her attorneys for their legal fees and costs, to be paid by the school district. The district filed an appeal in Commonwealth Court, claiming the district is immune from lawsuits such as Wible’s. Oral arguments were scheduled for Nov. 13, but they were canceled. The case was officially discontinued on Dec. 4, according to Commonwealth Court records.

A spokesperson for the school district had no comment for this story by presstime.

Attorneys for Wible couldn’t be reached for comment.

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Tim Cwiek has been writing for PGN since the 1970s. He holds a bachelor's degree in history from West Chester State University. In 2013, he received a Sigma Delta Chi Investigative Reporting Award from the Society of Professional Journalists for his reporting on the Nizah Morris case. Cwiek was the first reporter for an LGBT media outlet to win an award from that national organization. He's also received awards from the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association, the National Newspaper Association, and the Keystone Press.