Appeal dropped in racial bullying case

SARANAC LAKE – A local family has dropped its appeal of a judge’s decision to dismiss a racial bullying lawsuit the family filed against the Saranac Lake Central School District.

In early April, U.S. District Court Judge Mae D’Agostino threw out the case, at the request of attorneys for the school district, its board of education and several current and former school officials.

The case was brought in the fall of 2011 by a then-Saranac Lake Middle School girl who said she was subjected to numerous incidents of bullying and harassment in school because of her race. The girl’s father is Puerto Rican. She and her parents, Amy and Hiram Oliveras, sued the district for a combined $6 million in compensatory and punitive damages.

The judge, however, said the girl’s complaints of racial harassment didn’t rise to the level of “severe and pervasive racial hostility” to violate her civil rights. She also said school officials responded properly to the claims of discrimination brought to their attention, dismissing the case in its entirety.

On April 30, the girl and her parents filed a notice that they would appeal the decision to the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals.

Around the same time, the defendants in the case decided not to seek reimbursement for attorney fees but did submit bills to the court for some of their other costs, such as for printing transcripts. Those bills added up to a combined $7,200.

In mid May, the girl’s attorney, Josiah Pertz of Remsen, filed a letter with the court saying the plaintiff and defendants had reached an agreement “whereby defendants will withdraw their applications for costs in exchange for plaintiff’s withdraw of her appeal.”

The judge agreed to the stipulation on May 15.

The legal fees the school district incurred in the case were covered by its insurance company, Utica National, according to Assistant Superintendent Dan Bower.

“It’s part of our annual insurance policy for cases like this, under our employer liability insurance,” Bower said.

When the case was dismissed, school officials said in a statement that the decision “vindicates the school district and demonstrates that (it) acted reasonably and in good faith.”

Pertz said the lawsuit was part of a broader process of “tackling racial animus” in the community.

“While students of minority background continue to face hostility, the family is optimistic that more positive change will come from the process of self-evaluation and healing that the community is undertaking,” Pertz wrote in an email following the decision.