Stuff – Thursday, 14 March 2018
A prestigious Auckland secondary school paid $20,000 to the family of a bullied student.
Jesse Liu was the victim of two assaults by another student at Auckland Grammar School in 2005, with the second assault breaking his jaw. The offending student was suspended for six weeks.
A High Court decision out this week said Liu and his parents were aggrieved at the way the school handled the incident. They believed that if the teacher who reprimanded the bullying student after the first assault had taken more appropriate action, the second assault may not have occurred.
The family hired a lawyer and the school eventually made a $20,000 settlement to the family.
Headmaster Tim O’Connor, who started at the school in 2012, said the school’s records showed no payments were actually made directly by the school, but rather through an insurance company.
“All bullying matters are referred to our board. Our records show that there has never been any sort of payments to parents from us for bullying cases such as this,” he said.
Mai Chen, managing partner of of education law specialists Chen Palmer, said the payout from the school was “probably the right outcome”.
“The alternative was that the school would have simply gone to court and got a kicking,” Chen said.
She did not think it would set a precedent for parents trying to get payouts from schools – this was a severe case in which a student’s jaw was broken.
“I think the parents were probably trying to make sure that the school learnt the lesson, so that nobody had to go through it again,” she said.
“The school will know that from now on they do have to do something about bullying instances and not let it escalate into physical assault.”
The High Court judgement said the family’s lawyers encouraged the family to accept the offer as a higher settlement was unlikely in their view.
However, the family found the $20,000 settlement for the bullying, was used up covering the legal fees to take action against the school.
In addition to the $20,000 the family also faced further legal fees of $15,000 owed to lawyer Derek Cutting and counsel Gregory Keene.
In 2009, the family lodged a complaint with the New Zealand Law Society (NZLS) about the cost.
The NZLS found the fees to be reasonable.
The family then applied for a review to the Legal Complaints Review Officer (LCRO), which upheld the NZLS decision.
They went to the High Court, which again dismissed the family’s appeal.
Justice Anne Hinton said: “I recognise that what happened was horrifying. He [Liu] was badly wronged. The appellants have settled the claim which they understandably brought against the school, and obtained vindication.
“I recognise the matter cost them more than the dollar settlement they received, but that is unfortunately not uncommon and they were warned of that possibility both at the outset and along the way,” she said.
The judge also noted that the assaulted teenager had since recovered “reasonably well”.
The judgement is not the first time Grammar has been criticised for bullying.
Auckland Grammar old boy and Act leader David Seymour, in his book published last year, described the school as a “barbaric” place for some students.
In the book Own Your Future he reflects on one boy who left the school after being bullied.
“Often a school and a student are simply not a good mix but because of school zoning there is not much of a choice,” he said.