Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Bullying in Private Schools: Boy Tells Jury of Years of Bullying


I am posting an article found in The Journal Gazette regarding a civil lawsuit filed in Allen Superior Court in Fort Wayne, Indiana.  The suit involves the bullying of a student in a private Catholic School, Most Precious Blood.  The question that most families have is whether a private school can be held liable for bullying if the schools do not fall under the jurisidction of the anti bullying laws pertaining to public schools.   In Florida the state anti bullying law does not cover private schools.  However that does not preclude  if there was negligence and the child suffered injury and damages the family from suing the school in a tort action, for Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress.  However there bettter be some emotional distress.  Bullying can cause extreme emotional disress, where there are incidents of attempted suicides, suicides or severe depression and anxiety.  Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is common among victims of bullying.

The insults began in the sixth grade.

A girl who the boy thought of as a friend the previous year began asking him about his mother’s body parts, and whether he had performed sex acts with her. And then she began asking whether he was gay.

Multiple times the boy went to the principal of Most Precious Blood Catholic School with complaints, and each time they seemed – to him, at least – to fall on deaf ears.

“She always seemed in my mind to minimize my story and not take into consideration what I was saying,” the boy told a seven-member jury in Allen Superior Court on Tuesday.

The boy’s testimony was part of the second day of a civil trial where he and his family are accusing the local Catholic diocese of negligence in the face of bullying the now-teen faced as a sixth- and seventh-grader.

Also named in the suit are three classmates – as well as their parents – accused of bullying the boy with vulgar questions about his sexuality and his mother along with physical altercations that left him with marks and bruises.

The family is seeking damages from the diocese and the parents of the alleged bullies, who they say harassed the boy until he left the school partway through his seventh-grade year.

“I was sad all the time,” the boy told the jury about his feelings after one of the alleged bullies, the girl, began harassing him with foul language about his mother.

“I just couldn’t think (the girl) would say those things about my mom,” he said.

The Fort Wayne-South Bend Catholic Diocese, being defended by attorney John Theisen, and the parents of the alleged bullies initially settled with the family of the boy in 2011.

But when the settlement – which included a $20,000 payout to the family – became public, the diocese rescinded the offer and decided to take the case to trial.

During Tuesday’s testimony, the boy, who suffers from cerebral palsy and wears leg braces to help him walk, outlined abuse that included being pushed in stairwells as well as choked and hit.

Theisen tried to poke holes in both the boy’s story and his father’s, who had previously told the jury about his attempts to speak with school administrators about the alleged bullying.

Theisen said one of the claims from the family is that the bullying made the boy depressed and sick to the point of being nauseous.

Theisen produced medical records showing the boy complained of nausea to a doctor months before the sixth grade, when all of the alleged bullying began.

Theisen also produced documentation that the boy’s nausea got better with medical treatment, and that he missed only two days of school for nearly a year while taking medicine for the nausea.

The boy, though, disputed his wellness during this time.

“Sometimes I was sick as a dog, but had to go,” the boy said.

Theisen also called into question the boy’s parents’ attempts to contact the mothers or fathers of the alleged bullies, getting them to acknowledge that they did not look for numbers in a phone book, online or in a school or parish directory.

Theisen also laid the groundwork to argue that the family is only seeking financial gain.

The attorney produced the boy’s father’s tax records, showing he spent $900 on computer equipment and an additional $13,000 on remodeling his duplex during the time of the alleged bullying, even though he testified the $35 co-pay for his son to see a counselor was becoming difficult to make.

Theisen also produced part of a document the father wrote to the boy’s attorneys, in which he laid out everything that happened to the boy in “book form” with chapters.

The third chapter was titled, “It’s All About the Money and Money Disagreement,” which the father said detailed what the family paid in tuition.

“This lawsuit is all about the money, isn’t it, sir?” Theisen said.

The father quickly denied the allegation.

A father of one of the alleged bullies was also allowed to ask questions during Tuesday’s hearing, even though he is not a lawyer.

Superior Court Judge David Avery granted leeway when the father asked his questions and also allowed him to receive advice from the diocese’s team of attorneys while doing so.

This led to a tense, and at times awkward, back and forth between the two fathers.

The boy’s father claimed the two men had never met, even though through his questioning the alleged bully’s father made it seem as if they had before.

He told the boy’s father they lived seven houses away on the same street and asked at one point, “You don’t remember talking to me outside of the school?”

“Wouldn’t it be courteous as a parent, or the natural father instinct, to go the parent of the kid?” the father of the alleged bully continued in his questioning.

“I heard about your reputation,” the boy’s father said. “I heard how you’re in and out of jail with a criminal history. I didn’t want to come knocking on your door so you could pop me in the nose.”

The boy’s father also said he was surprised to hear the alleged bully’s father was allowed around the girl’s softball team and that he was told by others to stay away from the man.

When the alleged bully’s father asked why, if things were so bad, the police weren’t called, the boy’s father became emotional for the first time.

He said that he was trying to raise his child in a Christian environment without police, and that if he knew the case would progress this far he would’ve called the police after the first incident.

He reiterated that he went to school officials multiple times about the alleged bullying.

“I went to the man in the black robe,” the boy’s father said, referring to the school’s priest who sat in the courtroom gallery. “I prayed that they would do something. I prayed to Jesus. And they did nothing.”

Both fathers ended questioning by saying to each other: “It was nice meeting you.”

The trial is scheduled to continue through Mon

1 comment:

  1. This is so sad. I too prayed my daughter bullies would stop at a Catholic School. I prayed the church would stop it. I met with the Principal, Asst. Principal. Youth Director, Counselor, Teachers, the Superintendent and the Priest. We too left. However no one thing happened to the bullies. They are still bullies but my child lost everything about a normal school experience.