The family of a 14-year-old Utah boy who say their son was bullied prior to committing suicide outside a school in a Salt Lake City suburb has reached a settlement with the school district, the two sides announced Monday.
The family of David Phan had filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education and was considering a lawsuit, said John Mejia, legal director with the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah.
The Phan family said their son was gay and a victim of school bullying. School officials, however, said they looked into bullying but determined he was doing well and said Phan was dealing with personal issues at home.
David Phan was released early from Bennion Junior High School in Taylorsville on Nov. 29, 2012, before he returned later and shot himself in front of students on a pedestrian bridge near the school.
Instead of going to court, the two sides settled on an agreement that includes an undisclosed amount of money and assurances from the Granite School District that it will implement new practices and policies to prevent a similar event from happening, Mejia said.
The new policies include an expanded definition of what gender harassment means, Mejia said. Phan had told his family he was gay, and the family was concerned he may have been teased for not conforming to typical gender roles, Mejia said.
The district has also agreed to work with the Equity Assistance Center, an organization based in Denver that is funded by the U.S. Department of Education and available to help schools navigate race, gender and national-origin issues.
Working closely with the Phan family has helped the school district learn how it can handle communications with parents more effectively and provide a safer environment for students, said Douglas Larson, policy and legal services director for the district.
“It’s been a difficult process, but one that we hope will provide improved policies and practices,” Larson said.
In a statement released by the ACLU, the Phan family said they are pleased with the changes made already by Granite School District to address discrimination, bullying and teen suicide. The Phans say they want to honor their son’s life by working to prevent other suicides.
In a measure triggered by Phan’s death, the Utah state legislature this year passed a law that requires school officials to notify parents in writing if their children bully others or threaten suicide.
“In the wake of this incident, a lot of good things have come about,” Mejia said.
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