School Cleared on Disabled Teen's Suicide
(CN) - The father of a disabled teenager who committed suicide cannot "hold an overburdened public educational system accountable," a federal judge ruled.
"The harm that 'bullying' has caused to innocent children has seemingly reached an epidemic level," U.S. District Judge Malachy Mannion wrote. "While bullying is not a new development, the harshness and vitriol associated with bullying has seemingly exploded in the digital age. Despite the plaintiff's desire to hold an overburdened public educational system accountable, the facts and law do not demonstrate an appropriate cause of action for a denial of rights afforded by the IDEA," the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.
Jeffrey Butler, of Lenoxville, Pa., had sued the Mountain View School District last year in the Middle District of Pennsylvania on behalf of his deceased Aleshia.
He claimed that Aleshia had been a freshman at the high school in Kingsley, Pa., when she complained to school district employees that a female classmate whom she once considered a friend was bullying her.
The 15-year-old Aleshia committed suicide three weeks later on Oct. 10, 2010. Her father said the bullying had been reported to the school principal, and that Aleshia had confided in a teacher. It is unclear, however, what that teacher heard about the bullying.
Noting that the school district had previously notified him and his wife that Aleshia's older brother had suicidal thoughts, Butler said the school district was aware of a history of depression in his family.
He also said that Aleshia, a special education student, performed lower than expected in both her math and reading grades prior to her death.
The complaint asserted wrongful death, survival and violations of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the Federal Rehabilitation Act and Title IX, the federal civil rights law that prohibits sexual discrimination in education.
Butler later withdrew his wrongful death and survival claims, and U.S. District Judge Malachy Mannion dismissed the remaining claims on Monday.
"An action under the IDEA is a mechanism to ensure that disabled students receive an appropriate education, not a means for an individual to address collateral torts such as bullying," Mannion wrote. "In conclusion, the plaintiff has failed to raise a claim for damages available from this court, and commensurately fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted."
Butler's claim that Mountain View failed to appropriately investigate and stop the "gender-based discrimination" also failed.
"Frankly, the allegations associated with bullying by a fellow student of the same gender, who was a former friend of the decedent, appear to be so attenuated to Title IX liability against the school district as to be unsustainable in their present form," Mannion wrote. "However, following 3rd Circuit precedent, the plaintiff will be allowed an opportunity to file an amended complaint if he can set forth good faith allegations designed to address the elements of a viable Title IX claim."
The school district's alleged failure to protect Aleshia from bullying also does not show that it discriminated against her on the basis of her disability in violation of the Rehabilitation Act.
"No facts put forth in the complaint suggest that even if the school did fail to protect the decedent from bullying, their failure was predicated upon an intent to single out one particular disabled student," Mannion wrote.