Parents sue school district over alleged bullying

A Hamilton family has filed a lawsuit against the Hamilton City School Board of Education, alleging “intentional infliction of emotional distress” as a result of “severe and persistent harassment at school.”

Walter and Lisa Baker filed the suit in U.S. District Court on Oct. 15 on behalf of their son, referred to in the suit as “B.B.,” and names Superintendent Janet Baker and Principal Terri Fitton as co-defendants.

Fitton was principal of Bridgeport Elementary at the time of the alleged incidents. She is now principal at Brookwood Elementary.

The suit maintains that B.B. suffered harassment at Brookwood Elementary from September 2009 until December 2010, when he “was forced to leave as a result of bullying in his fourth grade year.”

In January 2010, the Bakers “noticed that B.B.’s grades were dropping off and he did not want to get out of bed on school days,” the suit says. “His parents discovered in or about October 2010 that B.B. was being bullied, harassed and intimidated by classmates.”

The suit alleges that after Fitton did not respond to messages left by the Bakers, they went to the school to talk to Fitton about “the bullying situation.”

“During this meeting, Principal Fitton assured Mrs. Baker that a formal investigation… would take place,” the suit says. “At no time was an investigation completed and no time (sic) did Mr. Baker or Mrs. Baker receive a written copy of the formal investigation, because one did not take place.”

On or about Dec. 21, 2010, the parents met again with Fitton, “who explained that she did not believe B.B. was being bullied,” the suit alleges. “As a result of that meeting, it is understood that HCS failed to follow its bullying procedure.”

The district’s policy manual states that when “a complaint of bullying is made, an investigation will be performed by the administration receiving the complaint.”

Such an investigation would include an opportunity for all parties involved to “submit evidence and a list of witnesses” and that “all findings related to the complaint will be reduced to writing,” according to district policy.

In the 2011-12 school year, Hamilton’s Office of Student Services received 41 reports of bullying and conducted 41 investigations, resulting in 37 disciplinary actions.

The six counts outlined in the complaint include a violation of the student’s 14th Amendment rights, the intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligent supervision and negligent training.

The suit asks that the Board of Education amend its policies and procedures to appropriately respond to bullying and that the plaintiffs be awarded unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.

Lisa Baker declined to answer questions about the suit and referred inquiries to attorney Zachary Gottesman, who did not return phone messages seeking comment.

“On the advice of our legal counsel, we do not comment regarding litigation matters,” said Hamilton City School District spokeswoman Joni Copas.

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