Triad school asks court to throw out federal bullying lawsuit

A Champaign County district sued by the parents of a student who killed herself after alleged bullying has asked a federal judge to dismiss the case.

In a response filed by attorneys for the school and its employees, the district says the lawsuit doesn’t state any claim or cause which relief can be granted.

“…all claims must be dismissed with prejudice,” the response says.

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Eleven-year-old Bethany Thompson’s parents filed a federal lawsuit in October.

Bethany survived cancer she was diagnosed with when she was 3-years-old. However, during brain surgery to remove a tumor, a nerve was hit causing her to develop what her family affectionately called a “crooked smile.”

Her parents say kids at the school made fun of her for it. Bethany died by suicide in 2016.

The lawsuit aims to bring change to the school district, it says.

“This action seeks damages and seeks to reform the Triad Local Schools’ policies and practices for responding to bullying, harassment, assault, battery, and discrimination,” the lawsuit says.

The lawsuit says Bethany was hit, slapped and shoved at school. The lawsuit also alleges that school officials, including Triad Principal Duane Caudill, were alerted by a parent that Thompson was being bullied and contemplating suicide but the issue wasn’t resolved.

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“Approximately one month prior to Bethany’s death, witness 1 informed her father, witness 2, that Bethany was making suicidal threats and that Bethany stated that she was “done with the bullies” and ‘wanted to kill herself with the gun from the closet.’ Upon learning of the threats, witness 2 called Principal Caudill and informed him that Bethany was threatening to kill herself. Witness 2 also told Principal Caudill that his daughter and Bethany were continually bullied at school. Principal Caudill assured witness 2 that he would contact Bethany’s mother right away and that he was aware of the bullying and that he was ‘monitoring’ the situation,” the suit says.

The lawsuit also points out that another Triad student of similar age to Bethany died by suicide just five years before Bethany took her own life and says that officials should have done more to protect Thompson.

The 38-page response from the district argues that the school nor its employees are responsible for Bethany’s death. The district in the court filing also says there is little proof that Bethany killed herself due to bullying.

“Similar claims have been dismissed on the basis that ‘a failure to act, even with a knowledge that a risk of harm may exist without state intervention, is not enough to confer liability under the Fourteenth Amendment,” the response says. “It was claimed in (Vidovic v. Mentor City Schools) that the defendants knew that the student was being bulled yet failed to address the bullying and that, as a result, for the bullying, the student died by suicide. The Vidovic court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants, finding that “‘the school had no constitutional duty to protect or rescue the student from harm imposed by other students or by her own hand.’”

The defendants allege that for the school to be responsible under law, Bethany’s family would have to prove that employees at the school contributed to her bullying or acted in a way to promote it.

The school district previously said that it takes bullying seriously and student safety is a top priority.

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