CHILLICOTHE, OH - The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio announced at a press conference today that it would represent the family of a Unioto High School student who was assaulted because of his sexual orientation. The assault occurred on October 17, 2011 at the school, and was recorded by another student. The victim, Zach, suffered physical injuries as a result of the severe beating. In the days following the attack, the video of the incident was posted online, and sparked nationwide outrage at the treatment Zach faced because of his sexual orientation.
At the press conference, the ACLU announced it was considering a wide range of legal actions to protect Zach and other students from future instances of bullying. In addition, the ACLU sent a letter to school officials informing them of their representation of the family, and inviting them to discuss solutions before formal legal action is filed.
“Every child deserves a safe learning environment, free from violence and cruelty,” said ACLU of Ohio Legal Director James L. Hardiman. “The school had a responsibility to protect Zach, but looked the other way for over a year while he was verbally and physically bullied. Schools must proactively address bullying by engaging with students and teachers on the effects of harmful words and actions, or else risk even greater incidents of violence. This education must start at a young age in order to change the school’s culture, so this behavior is no longer acceptable.”
According to Zach and his family, he has been the victim of escalating verbal and physical school bullying for at least a year. His mother, Rebecca Collins, reported the incidences to the school several times, but no action was taken.
“This has been an ongoing nightmare for our family. No parent wants to see their child in danger, and it has been a constant fear that Zach or one of our loved ones would be harmed,” said Zach’s mother, Rebecca Collins. “Through Zach’s ordeal, I hope schools recognize they must take reports of bullying seriously and educate others on how it affects families.”
“Union-Scioto School District failed to keep Zach from harm. Now, they must take proactive steps to change the culture of their school so that discrimination based on sexual orientation is no longer tolerated. It will be a long road that must begin when children are young, but can be achieved through creative and honest dialogue on the impact of bullying and discrimination,” concluded Hardiman.