Metro

Critic of school district in bullying case settles suit

A South Hadley man who sued the former chairman of the local School Committee after being kicked out of a public meeting in which he criticized school officials’ handling of the Phoebe Prince bullying case, has settled his lawsuit for $75,000, his lawyer said yesterday.

Luke Gelinas, 49, settled his federal civil rights lawsuit against Edward Boisselle, former school board chairman, about a month ago, court records show.

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Howard Friedman, a prominent civil rights lawyer who represented Gelinas in the case, said in an e-mail that the town’s insurer paid out the settlement money, which was deposited yesterday.

Gelinas did not return a call seeking comment, but he discussed the lawsuit in the statement provided by Friedman.

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“This lawsuit was not about money, although the final amount speaks loudly,’’ Gelinas said. “It was about social justice, which has been served. Most of the settlement goes to pay the expenses of litigation. I will also make some private and personal donations from my portion.’’

Boisselle and his lawyer did not return messages seeking comment yesterday.

According to the civil complaint Gelinas filed in federal court in Springfield, Boisselle repeatedly interrupted Gelinas when he spoke during a public School Committee meeting on April 14, 2010.

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In remarks made during the public comment period, Gelinas criticized school officials for not doing more to prevent the January 2010 death of the 15-year-old Prince, who hanged herself after relentless bullying from other students at South Hadley High School. At one point, Gelinas said many people “have examined the information at hand and concur that it is now time to hold the adults responsible,’’ prompting an interruption from Boisselle, the complaint states.

When Gelinas asked if he could continue, Boisselle said, “No, you’re done,’’ according to the filing.

According to the complaint, Gelinas then invoked his First Amendment right to speak, and Boisselle said, “This is not your First Amendment right. . . . Go outside on the street and talk to whoever wants to talk to you. Please leave.’’

Two South Hadley police officers who were initially named as codefendants, Todd Dineen and David Gagne, escorted Gelinas out of the meeting room, but not before Boisselle told him, “This is my meeting’’ and “this is the School Committee’s meeting,’’ the filing states.

Boisselle later said, “I will not be treated with that sort of disrespect,’’ once Gelinas, who has a son in the school system, left the room, according to the complaint.

A federal judge dismissed the portion of the complaint brought against Dineen and Gagne in October, court records show.

Prince had recently immigrated to the United States from Ireland when she hanged herself inside her home. Several teenagers were charged criminally in the case and received probation after admitting to their roles in the bullying.

‘It was about social justice, which has been served.’

Luke Gelinas Plaintiff
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Prince’s family, who had accused the school district of ignoring the teenager’s suffering, reached a $225,000 settlement with the town in October 2010, in exchange for agreeing not to sue the school district.

Travis Andersen can be reached at tandersen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe.
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