The lawsuit aims to bring change to the school district, it says.
“This action seeks damages and seeks to reform the Triad Local Schools’ policies and practices for responding to bullying, harassment, assault, battery, and discrimination,” the lawsuit says.
Attorney Douglas Holthus is representing the defendants in the case including the district, Chris Piper — who was the superintendent at the time of Bethany’s death — and Duane Caudill — who was the principal of the school.
He said in a statement that the district can’t discuss specific student cases but it does its best to support and protect students.
“The district has always had policies in compliance with state and federal laws, and it updates those policies when state or federal laws so require,” his statement said. “The district continues to take very seriously all concerns brought forward about bullying and harassment, investigates those concerns, and takes actions immediately to properly address all complaints of bullying and harassment between or among students.”
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Bethany was diagnosed with cancer and was 3-years-old when she required brain surgery to remove a tumor. While the surgery was successful, it did cause her to develop a “crooked smile” that the lawsuit says became the target of constant harassment by other students.
Bethany made national news when she killed herself.
“For many years and particularly as a student at the Triad Middle School, Bethany endured harassment and bullying at school at the hands of numerous students, much of it based on her “crooked” smile, disability, curly hair and her gender. She was subjected to severe and pervasive bullying, verbal harassment, physical harassment and discrimination by numerous and yet to be identified students,” the lawsuit says.
The lawsuit says Bethany was hit, slapped and shoved at school. The lawsuit also alleges that school officials, including Caudill, was alerted by a parent that Thompson was being bullied and contemplating suicide but the issue wasn’t resolved.
“Approximately one month prior to Bethany’s death, witness 1 informed her father, witness 2, that Bethany was making suicidal threats and that Bethany stated that she was “done with the bullies” and ‘wanted to kill herself with the gun from the closet.’ Upon learning of the threats, witness 2 called Principal Caudill and informed him that Bethany was threatening to kill herself. Witness 2 also told Principal Caudill that his daughter and Bethany were continually bullied at school. Principal Caudill assured witness 2 that he would contact Bethany’s mother right away and that he was aware of the bullying and that he was ‘monitoring’ the situation,” the suit says. Principal Caudill failed to contact Bethany’s parents to inform them of Bethany’s suicidal threats or the bullying and failed to take any action whatsoever in regard to the information that Bethany was suicidal. In failing to do so, Principal Caudill failed to follow the School District’s bylaws and handbook as it pertained to the actions to be taken by school employees upon learning that a student was suicidal and/or being bullied.”
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The lawsuit also points out that another Triad student of similar age to Bethany committed suicide just five years before Bethany took her own life and says that officials should have done more to protect Thompson.
“Bethany’s case was not an outlier; other Triad students also suffered unrelenting bullying and discrimination. In 2012, another Triad Middle School student committed suicide and while it is unknown whether bullying was a precipitating cause of that child’s death such allegations exist in the Triad community,” the lawsuit says. “The 2012 suicide should have put the school district on high alert as to the psychological and emotional needs of its students and should have prompted the school to adopt a zero-tolerance policy regarding aggressive and harassing behavior. It did not. The school continued to fail in its duties to its students and failed to adhere to its own policies regarding suicidal behavior and bullying, all to the detriment of Bethany Thompson and her parents.”
Holthus said the district cares for every child.
“Certainly, research shows that suicide among children is a very complicated issue, and it is rare that a single aspect of a child’s life results in a child’s suicide. Rather, self-harming actions are nearly always the result of a combination of pressures felt by the child. Recognizing and addressing any child’s pressures is a task for all persons involved in a child’s life. Our staff members certainly take this task to heart,” the statement says. “The district continues to take all precautions to identify student needs, be responsive to reports of concerns and bullying, protect students, and provide students with support at school. District administrators and teachers are trained and encouraged to take actions to address concerns of student safety, report any misconduct immediately to proper authorities, and to keep parents of the involved students informed.”