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School district may be held liable for student’s suicide if it failed to address bullying.

Estate of Lance v. Lewisville Independent School District, 57 IDELR 168 (E.D. Tex. 2011): A U.S. District Court allowed a suit to proceed alleging that a school district failed to protect a young student with disabilities who committed suicide. The nine year old student, who was diagnosed with an emotional disturbance, a learning disability, and a speech impairment, was bullied by his peers.

The student was called “gay” by other students due to his speech impairment. His classmates were intimidated to avoid him or find themselves subject to ridicule as well. Due to the repeated bullying, the district convened its IEP Team to discuss the student’s depression and resulting suicidal ideation. The district referred the student for a full psychological assessment, which noted a possible disorder on the autism spectrum. The district recommended counseling four times per six week period and implemented a behavior intervention plan.

The student was disciplined as a result of his responses to the bullying, resulting in his placement in an alternative school. Despite the parent’s insistence that the student’s behavior (which resulted in the discipline) was a response to bullying, the district failed to investigate. The student admitted to having suicidal thoughts, to the counselor at the alternative school, but there was no record of the counselor notifying anyone of such admission. After returning to his regular classroom, the student was again subjected to bullying and sent to in-school suspension. While using the restroom in the nurse’s office during his suspension, the student hung himself.

As a result of the circumstances surrounding the student’s suicide, the Court allowed the case to proceed due to a potential “special relationship” between the school and the student where, due to his disabilities, young age, and the affirmative acts taken by the district, the district may be held liable for a violation of the student’s constitutional rights.

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This entry was posted on Friday, November 25th, 2011 at 3:18 pm and is filed under Uncategorized. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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