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A New Jersey school district has agreed to pay $4.2 million to settle a lawsuit by the family of middle school student Sawyer Rosenstein, according to a report from The Associated Press.
The 7th-grade student was left paralyzed in 2006 after being punched in the abdomen by a known bully, after the victim had repeatedly informed the school district of the bullying.
The family's lawsuit alleged school officials knew or should have known about the attacker's violent tendencies, as he had punched another student in the face on a school bus a year earlier. The school kept no record of that or other attacks, and the attacker was not subjected to escalating discipline, the suit said. According to the family's attorney, Jeffrey Youngman, this violates the state's anti-bullying law.
Three months before being punched, the 12-year-old Rosenstein emailed school officials to report the bullying and ask for help.
"I would like to let you know that the bullying has increased," he wrote to his guidance counselor at the Eric Smith Middle School, according to AP. "I would like to figure out some coping mechanisms to deal with these situations, and I would just like to put this on file so if something happens again, we can show that there was past bullying situations."
Rosenstein was punched in the abdomen at school on May 16, 2006, and he came home that day complaining of pain in his back but otherwise feeling fine, according to his father, Joel Rosenstein. Two days later, he couldn't walk.
The punch caused a clot in the major artery that supplies blood to the spine, leaving Rosenstein paralyzed from the waist down in what Youngman called an "incredibly rare" injury.
The Ramsey Board of Education released a statement Wednesday denying any wrongdoing, and saying that the district's insurance carriers had decided to enter into the settlement and will pay it out, AP says.New Jersey enacted a tougher new anti-bullying law in 2011, but Youngman said that such laws are only effective if they are enforced and adequately funded.
Sawyer Rosenstein is now an 18-year-old freshman studying communication at Syracuse University. He told The Associated Press that he decided to talk about the case to let other bullying victims know that they can recover, as well as to inform bullies that violence can have serious consequences.
The Rosensteins have also settled a claim against the boy who attacked their son, but the terms are confidential.