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Parents Blame School for Son’s Suicide

DALLAS (CN) - Parents of a 13-year-old boy who killed himself last year blame their school district, saying it ignored the repeated bullying of their son, "which was observed by staff, who did nothing." One of the bullying incidents was posted on YouTube, the parents say.

Jon Carmichael was a student at Loflin Middle School in Joshua Independent School District, and "was bullied, harassed and called names, every day" because he was short and "because other kids thought it was funny," according to his parents' federal complaint.

The Carmichaels say Jon was "bullied in physical education class and in the locker room, which was observed by staff, who did nothing."

They claim defendant Walter Strickland, a teacher, saw Jon thrown into a Dumpster, but failed to report it, and that defendant Kenneth Watts, a former teacher, failed to report seeing Jon "placed upside down in a toilet bowl" by a group of bullies.

Just before Jon's death on March 28, 2010, "he was stripped nude, tied up and again placed into a trashcan," an incident that was videotaped and put on YouTube, parents say.

They say their son "was called fag, queer, homo and douche" in the video. The video later was removed from YouTube "at the direction of an unknown staff member, who also failed to report the incident," according to the complaint.

When Jon spoke to his counselor, defendant Elizabeth Rosatelli, about the bullying and his depression, she did nothing to help him, his parents say.

On the day he killed himself, Jon told another student that he was going to commit suicide, his folks say. They add: It should come as no surprise that she was like her elders in the school community, as she too failed to report Jon's outcry. In fact, she said, 'do it, that no one cared,' which of course, is absolutely the same response she learned from all the adults around her."

The Carmichaels say that "even though the district ostensibly had a policy in place to deal with known incidents of bullying and harassment, school district personnel clearly had an actual practice and custom of looking the other way."

His parents say the school district went so far as to "cover up their acts and omissions" by directing a student who had video of Jon's assault to destroy it, and by hiding Jon's "personal journal which spoke of issues of bullying and suicidality."

In December 2003, the Joshua Independent School District instituted a policy regarding assaults at school, "prohibiting such conduct and the appropriate actions district personnel must take when they observe student-to-student assaults," the complaint states.

In June 2008, the school board enacted a policy on bullying and harassment that "set forth specific requirements for reporting bullying, investigating bullying and training and supervising staff about this problem," the Carmichaels say.

The Joshua Independent School District, School Board President Ronnie Galbraith, Superintendent Ray Dane, and the district's teachers and counselors allegedly "only gave these concerns 'lip service,' and turned a 'blind eye' to the problem."

The parents say there is no evidence that "the various school district defendants ever put into practice their own policies and procedures in regard to responding to and acting to prevent future occurrences of assault, bullying and harassment in general," or in regard to their son.

Instead, the school district "had a climate that condoned bullying and harassment and looked the other way when it occurred," the parents say.

They seek punitive damages for negligence, wrongful death, and destruction of evidence.

They are represented by Martin Cirkiel of Round Rock, Texas.

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