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Parents Say District’s Lax Bullying Policy|Caused 9-Year-Old Boy’s Suicide in School

SHERMAN, Texas (CN) - The parents of a 9-year-old boy who hanged himself in a bathroom at his elementary school say the school district failed to prevent his suicide by ignoring complaints he was being bullied. The boy's mother says that shortly before her son killed himself she sent a letter to the principal, "complaining about the fact [that her son] had been, and continued to be, a victim of incessant bullying by other children," and also complained of it to the school board.

Jason and Deborah Lance sued the Lewisville Independent School District, the principal, school nurse and superintendent in Federal Court, for the death of their son, Montana.

The parents say that Montana's suicide at Stewart Elementary School on Jan. 20, 2010 was not his "first suicidal gesture, and in fact, just a few days before, he told a school counselor that he wanted to kill himself."

About a week before he made that threat, Deborah Lance says she sent a letter to Stewart Elementary Principal Lea Land, "complaining about the fact Montana had been, and continued to be, a victim of incessant bullying by other children."

Montana, who suffered from a learning disability and speech impairment, locked himself in the bathroom in the school nurse's office, and killed himself while she and other school employees tried to find someone with a key, the parents say.

The Lances say the Lewisville Independent School District gave only "lip service" to its bullying and harassment policies, providing only very general discussion of these issues in the student handbook, unlike "many school boards across the country ... [which] made anti-bullying campaigns an integral part of that school district's practices and customs."

In Montana's 1,000-page educational record, there is nothing that "indicates that anything was ever done in regard to his complaints that he was being bullied and harassed," nor is there evidence that the Lewisville Independent School Board trained or supervised its employees to prevent bullying and harassment, the parents say.

The Lances say that rather than promote "a school climate that was sensitive to the issue of bullying and harassment and discrimination based upon disability, the School District defendants actually fostered a climate where bullying and harassment was rampant and when it occurred, did not know how to respond."

Montana began to be bullied by other children in the second grade, and was called "gay" because he suffered from a lisp, his parents say. Other students were told not to sit with him or they would be "sitting at the gay table," according to the complaint.

The Lances claims that in February 2008 the school psychologist found Montana to be "at risk," and "clinically significant" after "he wrote that he felt like life was getting worse and worse, that other kids hate him, that his classmates make fun of him, that he heard voices in his head, and that he hates himself."

The psychologist found that he satisfied criteria as a child with an "Emotional Disturbance" and could receive special services from the school, but the designation was not formally accepted by the school district until Nov. 1, 2009, the parents say.

The parents say the school district did not notify them after Montana got into fights with students, nor after he claimed in class that he had "pooped his pants." They say there is no documentation in his education record that the district suggested he undergo any counseling after these incidents.

The Lances claim that the school district failed to keep Montana safe from harm, violated their son's constitutional rights, and say, "The acts and omissions of the school district personnel, including and especially the nurse, created the danger which caused the injuries to Montana." They seek punitive damages and court costs for wrongful death and other charges.

They are represented by Martin Cirkiel of Round Rock.

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