Judge urges families in school-bullying suit to settle with city

A federal judge Tuesday strongly urged the Department of Education and parents who have filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of children who have been bullied at school to settle the case.

"I think this is the kind of problem best solved outside the courtroom," Judge Nicholas Garaufis said Tuesday in Brooklyn Federal Court.

The parents of 24 schoolchildren — including 11 who are disabled — and the pro-charter group Families for Excellent Schools filed the suit last April alleging the Department of Education does not comply with regulations concerning in-school violence.

They are seeking a number of remedies but have dropped a demand for an independent monitor, said their lawyer, Jim Walden.

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Marilyn Richter of the city Law Department told the judge there have been some "preliminary discussions" about settling the case. But the city will file a motion to dismiss the suit arguing in part that there's no constitutional violation.

Garaufis told the parties that he was a school teacher himself and served on school board in Queens in the 1970s so he understands the problems described in the lengthy complaint.

"I understand all of this stuff," he said. "Bullying is an institution that goes back as long as people communicated with each other …Clearly there's a limit to the ability of the educational system, public or private or even charter schools, to effectuate 100% solutions to the problem."

The judge continued: "There is a belief that the federal courts can solve all manner of problems. We have limitations. This is the place of last resort for this kind of issue."

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Outside the courthouse, a mom who identified herself as "Plaintiff No. 21" wept as she described how the system failed to help her 9-year-old daughter who receives home schooling after years of bullying.

"I became looked at as the nuisance parent rather than a parent advocating for her daughter," she said. "My daughter is still suffering to this day. It is very emotional to see a child suffer."

Garaufis said he will rule on the merits of the case if that time comes. "I really stress the importance of finding a solution. That's the way to go. You can pass along my concerns to the mayor," he told the city's legal team.

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