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Parents Blame School for Their Teen’s Suicide

PITTSBURGH (CN) - A teenage rape victim with special needs committed suicide after her principal strip-searched her and accused her of drug use, parents say in Federal Court.

Fellow classmates had allegedly claimed that 16-year-old Tiffani Maxwell had illegal drugs on her while taking the bus to Slippery Rock Area High School on Jan. 14. 2011.

But her parents, Shane and Sandy Maxwell, say that Tiffani had been driven to school that day and that school officials refused to review bus surveillance tapes.

Instead, Principal Kristie Shulsky approached Tiffani and "screamed accusations of drug use" at her while she was being assisted by a classmate to the nurse's office, according to the complaint in the Western District of Pennsylvania.

Shulsky allegedly entered the nurse's office after the teens, ordered Tiffani's friend back to class, and continued accusing Tiffani "of drug use in a loud, forceful and aggressive manner."

The Maxwells say that a substitute nurse and Assistant Principal John Szolek watched but did not try to stop the verbal abuse.

Shulsky ordered Tiffani to sit on a chair and said she "was not permitted to leave the chair until she confessed to drugs," according to the complaint.

Tiffani allegedly cried nonstop as "Shulsky continued to scream accusations of drug use in the nurse's office" and pointed fingers in her face for more than 15 minutes.

Shulsky then ordered a nurse to conduct a "drug screen," including a strip search, on Tiffani, according to the complaint.

The Maxwells say their daughter was "degraded by being forced to remove her clothing against her will," stripping down to her bra and underwear in front of the nurse and principal.

Once she had disrobed, Shulsky and the nurse allegedly directed Tiffani to pull the elastic of her underwear away from her body and lift up her bra.

Shulsky and Szolek then suspended Tiffani for 10 days on the basis of drug possession and/or use, according to the complaint.

Tiffani shot herself in the head the next day, believing that her 10-day suspension, in addition to her prior medical absences, "would prevent her from completing the schoolwork required to advance to the next grade," according to the complaint.

The Maxwells say that their daughter was special needs and "insecure."

School officials also allegedly knew that Tiffani had been raped twice before because her mother told them that a classmate had been the attacker, according to the complaint.

Slippery Rock unconstitutionally gives school officials search rights "if there is reasonable suspicion that the student is in violation of any school rule or policy, or poses a threat to themselves or others while on school property," according to the complaint.

The Maxwells sued the Slippery Rock Area School District, Superintendent Kathleen Nogay, Shulsky and Szolek, alleging unreasonable search and seizure, due process violations, deprivation of life, wrongful death, assault, battery, invasion of privacy, false imprisonment, and negligent and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

They say that the "improper investigation of the accusations regarding drugs on the school bus, the illegal and unreasonable strip search while illegally detaining Tiffani, and the subsequent suspension from school without cause were violations of Tiffani's civil rights ... and the intentional torts committed against her on January 14, 2011 caused her to commit suicide on January 15, 2011."

The couple seeks punitive damages and are represented by Barbara Ochs and Daniel Godinich of Evans, Garvey, Lackey and Ochs in Sharon, Pa.

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