The family of a 14-year-old girl has sued school officials in Green, alleging they failed to stop physical and emotional bullying aimed at their daughter in part because she is Jewish.
The parents sued in U.S. District Court after withdrawing their daughter from Green High School last month because, according to the lawsuit, officials did nothing to stop the taunting, violence and threats of violence. The name of the family is being withheld to protect the identity of the girl.
The lawsuit claims the bullying by classmates went on for years. Students told her she would “rot in hell” because she didn’t believe in Jesus Christ and they called her a “dirty Jew.”
“She was tripped, shoved, hit, kicked and had her books knocked out of her hands on a regular basis,” the lawsuit maintains.
Under Ohio law, all school districts must have bullying policies. The lawsuit contends that adults working for the Green district, including a bus driver, a guidance counselor, two principals and two superintendents, did nothing to stop the bullying when it was happening or to punish the aggressors afterward.
“She’s been victimized for a number of years because there’s very few Jewish people in that district and there’s a lot of people apparently who have a problem with Jews,” said the family’s Cleveland attorney, Kenneth Myers.
Superintendent Michael Nutter said the case has been turned over to the district’s insurance company.
“Our lawyers at the insurance company are reviewing it and we’ve been advised from them at this point not to comment on it until they’ve reviewed all of it,” he said. “We have our [bullying] policies, they’re all online, but that’s all I can say right now about it.”
Although most of the bullying was verbal, there were incidents of physical abuse, according to the lawsuit. In September 2007, when the girl was in fifth grade, she was stabbed in the leg with a pencil during class and required medical attention.
Her parents allege that during the fall of 2008, she was verbally harassed daily on a school bus by several boys, who called her a “[f-ing] Jew.”
But the bus driver neither disciplined the boys nor filed a report with the district. Two boys also spat on her when she was on the bus one day that fall, the lawsuit claims.
In November 2009, a boy assaulted her in the choir room at school and she had to use crutches for several weeks.
Most of the abuse, however, was verbal and much of it focused on her religion, Myers said.
The lawsuit names more recent incidents as well, including a Facebook page in 2010 devoted to disparaging the girl and including comments posted by the mother of one of the girls who created the page.
The lawsuit alleges that school officials knew about the harassment because the girl’s mother made several complaints, both in person and in writing.
One defendant named in the lawsuit, Green Intermediate School Principal Mark Booth, is accused of telling the girl to fight one of the boys who was bullying her and of remarking to the mother that her daughter “enjoyed the attention.”
The lawsuit also names the school board, Nutter, former Superintendent Wade Lucas, Green High School Principal Cindy Brown, and Jeff Miller and Jeff Wells, Green Middle School principal and assistant principal, respectively.
Lucas left the district in 2009 to become superintendent of the Olentangy district in Delaware County near Columbus. He could not be reached for comment late Friday.
The girl missed about three weeks of classes, but now attends classes in another public school district.
“She was able to enroll in a different school, which is nice that Green was able to arrange that, but it doesn’t wipe out the years of abuse that she suffered,” Myers said. “So far, she’s been at the other school I think two weeks now and things are going very well for her because they don’t have that sort of culture where that’s tolerated.”
The lawsuit asks for a declaration that Green school officials violated the girl’s constitutional rights and seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages, as well as attorney fees.
Myers is involved in several bullying cases around the state, including two involving students at Mentor High School who committed suicide: Sladjana Vidovic and Eric Mohat.
The case involving Mohat, who shot himself in 2007, was dismissed this year.
“In the Mohat case, the parents had not communicated with the school district because the son, he thought he had it handled,” Myers said. “The standard that you have to prove is what’s called deliberate indifference on the part of the school district.”
He said Green officials were well aware of what was happening.
“I didn’t have enough evidence to show that in Mohat, but I think I have it here,” Myers said.
John Higgins can be reached at 330-996-3792 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the education blog at http://education.ohio.com/.