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Lawsuit Alleges Hanover High School Allowed Bullying to Persist



Valley News Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 05, 2017

Hanover — A former Hanover High School student and his mother have filed a lawsuit alleging that school administrators failed to protect the boy from sexual harassment.

A Nov. 3 complaint in U.S. District Court in Concord identifies the student as “A.V.” and his mother as “N.V.” and says the boy was taunted and physically assaulted by a group of students throughout the 2016-17 school year, his first at Hanover High, despite numerous attempts by the family to get help from school officials.

The family’s attorney, Karen Hewes, of Manchester, declined to answer specific questions about the allegations or make the mother or son available for an interview.

She released a short statement on behalf of the plaintiffs last week.

“The family is very concerned about the safety and well-being of all students in the district,” the statement said. “They are hoping that this case will expose the serious harassment that many students face on a daily basis and bring about the necessary changes to improve the school environment.”

The harassment eventually led the now 15-year-old boy to switch schools, according to the complaint, which alleges that Dresden School District officials displayed actionable negligence and failed in their duty to protect him under Title IX, the federal law that prohibits sex discrimination in education.

“I think you see it in all schools,” Hewes said in a telephone interview on Monday, speaking of sexual misconduct generally. “It’s not just necessarily in Hanover High School. Just look at what’s coming out daily in the news about various incidents in the entertainment industry, in politics.”

Jay Badams, superintendent of Hanover-Norwich schools, said Dresden has not yet filed its formal response to the lawsuit with the court and declined to comment on specifics of the case.

“The Dresden School District is firmly committed to maintaining a safe and supportive school environment,” Badams said in an email last week. “Our School Board has established policies, and our schools have developed processes and procedures to address bullying, harassment and other forms of discrimination that are consistent with this commitment. While we cannot discuss the specifics of pending legal action, our board, administration and staff remain dedicated to providing a healthy and nurturing learning environment.”

Dresden’s deadline to file a legal response falls sometime in January, depending on the way in which notice of the lawsuit is served, school officials and the family’s attorney said.

The family’s 27-page initial filing alleges a pattern of abuse toward the boy that began during middle school, escalated during encounters at summer camp with fellow Hanover students in 2016, and continued throughout the following school year.

A trio of students — identified in the lawsuit as “A,” “B,” and “C” — used slurs against the boy at an unnamed camp that was not affiliated with Hanover High, according to the complaint. The students also allegedly wiped bodily fluids on him, hit him and engaged in sexual assault, according to the court filing.

The verbal and physical bullying continued once the school year began, and additional students — the complaint identifies at least 11 by a letter of the alphabet — participated, according to the filing. The abuse allegedly escalated throughout the year, culminating in a locker-room attack that left the boy bleeding and concussed.

In addition to the Dresden School District, the lawsuit names SAU 70 and HHS Principal Justin Campbell as defendants.

The complaint alleges that the family repeatedly asked Campbell for help and provided him with evidence of abuse, but received slow and inadequate responses, as well as criticism about the boy’s behavior.

Reached by email on Monday, Campbell said he was unable to comment on the case “for reasons of student confidentiality as well as the pending legal case,” but added that he supported Badams’ statement about the district’s commitment to a safe school environment.

Campbell said federal law prevented him from discussing students’ disciplinary records, including those alleged to have harassed the boy.

“A.V.” has since moved to the Burlington area. Hewes on Monday declined to say how he is adjusting to his new surroundings.

The Hanover Police Department received at least two reports from the family in connection with the bullying allegations, according to the complaint: one about what happened at summer camp, and another about incidents during the school year.

Hanover Police Chief Charlie Dennis on Monday confirmed that his department had received the reports, but said a town attorney would need to review them to determine what, if any, information could be released.

Around the same time that some of the sexual harassment was alleged to have taken place, the Dresden School Board in September 2016 adopted a policy drafted by Hanover High students that gives transgender students access to bathrooms and other school facilities corresponding to their gender identities.

The district’s policies also mandate that “all programs, activities, and employment practices be free from discrimination based on sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity.”

Rob Wolfe can be reached at rwolfe@vnews.com or 603-727-3242.