Indiana teen sues school over bullying

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An openly gay Indianapolis teenager expelled for bringing a stun gun to school to ward off bullies is suing Indianapolis Public Schools, accusing administrators of failing to stop the “relentless, severe harassment” he faced in school.

Darnell “Dynasty” Young, 17, and his mother, Chelisa Grimes, filed their suit in federal court in Indianapolis. It seeks unspecified damages over a series of alleged bullying incidents that led Young to fire a stun gun at Arsenal Technical High School in the spring, reportedly to scare away bullies. The move led to his expulsion.

The Indianapolis Star reports that the suit alleges bullies used homophobic slurs, spat at Young and threw rocks and glass bottles at him, but that school administrators blamed Young, who carried his mother’s purses and wore her jewelry to school.

“Rather than take effective measures to protect him, school staff told him that he was to blame for the harassment because of his appearance and told him to change his dress and behavior to conform to stereotypical ideas of masculinity and to be less ‘flamboyant,’” the suit says.

The family’s attorneys claim in the suit that the district violated Young’s civil rights and the U.S. Constitution because, among other things, it discriminated against him based on his sexual orientation and it tried to get him to change the way he dressed, a violation of his First Amendment right to freedom of expression.

The school district, the School Board, Superintendent Eugene White, Tech Principal Larry Yarrell and Assistant Principal Debra Barlowe are named as defendants.

District spokesman John Althardt said the district’s attorneys would “review the information and we will respond accordingly,” but he would not comment further.

Grimes has said she gave Young the stun gun so he could protect himself because she feared he would be hurt. On April 16, he fired it in the air at Arsenal Technical High School when six students allegedly approached him at school and threatened to beat him up.

“All students should be able to get an education without fearing for their physical safety, and they should be able to rely on school administrators to protect them when abuse does occur,” Christopher F. Stoll, an attorney with the National Center for Lesbian Rights who is working on the case, said in a prepared statement.

Young was expelled until January. In August, the district reduced the penalty so he could start the fall semester on time but said he would have to go to an alternative school. Young declined to come back to the district and is attending Indianapolis Metropolitan High School, a charter school, for his senior year.

His suit also questions whether the district followed proper expulsion procedures. It alleges that Young was told he would have to “dress and behave in a manner that conformed to Principal Yarrell’s notion of appropriate masculinity” if he wanted to avoid expulsion.

Yarrell said this spring that the school hasn’t punished the people who allegedly threatened him because Young couldn’t identify them.