The boy was just 12. His mother recalls him smiling a lot. He was small and he sometimes stuttered. But his sweet nature had a way of winning over almost everyone he met.
The East Harlem boy hanged himself in the shower after two years of unrelenting bullying by a handful of his school peers. He would be tripped. Pushed. Chased. Taunted. Struck with objects. When his mother complained to administrators and the parents of the alleged bullies, it got worse.
Now, the deceased boy’s mother has filed a lawsuit against the New York City Education Department, naming also the parents of those boys who tormented her son. The lawsuit claims that not only do the parents have culpability in her son’s death, but also the city, the school administrators and the teachers. All share responsibility, she says, because they did nothing to stop the mistreatment of her son.
In addition to the boy’s small stature and speech impediment, the other boys reportedly taunted him over the death of his own father, who had committed suicide when he was just a baby.
The boy’s mother recounted one meeting wherein she sat across the table from the parents of the boys who were taunting her son. She said they sat stone-faced. They never admitted wrongdoing, never apologized and never did anything to make sure the behavior would stop.
She recalls the boys involved came to her home and threw sticks at her door. Her older son recalls seeing his younger brother beaten in front of a crossing guard, who did nothing to intervene.
The family asked to be moved to another housing project in hopes that they could have him switch schools. However, the family was turned down.
Days after the meeting she had with the other parents, the bullies sneaked up on him in his building and began beating him with sticks and pipes.
His mother filed an order of protection against the bullies. It apparently still did not stop them.
This was a situation where a mother did everything right. She did everything she could possibly have done to protect her son. Of course, the boys involved must be held to account. But so to should the educational system that failed to do its part to protect this child from abuse.
While lawsuits of this nature are relatively rare, they are becoming more common across the country. What was once seen as a matter to be worked out amongst children has become far more serious where bullies tend to be more aggressive in a digital age, where victims can’t escape.
In New Jersey, a teenager filed a lawsuit against two local school districts earlier this year, alleging that neither did anything to help reduce the amount of bullying he endured from fourth grade through high school. The teen was bullied not only by students, but also reportedly by school employees. Incidents involved a “pantsing,” taunting over his perceived sexual orientation and cyberbullying online. Despite numerous complaints to school officials, the teen says, nothing was done to stop the behavior.
In Massachusetts, the family of a Jewish boy says he was targeted by bullies because of his heritage, with fellow middle schoolers taunting him with shouts of “Heil Hitler,” slamming his head into the wall, punching him in the hallways, branding his locker with a swastika and even drawing the symbol on the road in front of his home. His family also alleges the school did nothing to address the behavior, despite numerous complaints.
USA Today in 2011 reported on the rise of anti-bullying lawsuits in the U.S. It was speculated that increased awareness of the issue, as well as new standards and more attorneys willing to take on these cases.
Almost every parent pursuing this kind of legal action has the same goal: Making sure it doesn’t happen again.
The Law Offices of Ira S. Newman provides education litigation representation in New York City, Long Island, Great Neck and surrounding areas. Call 516-487-7375 or send us an e-mail.
Mother Of Suicide Victim Hopes Lawsuit Will Stop Bullying, Aug. 28, 2013, By Jessica Schneider, CBS2 New York
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