Bullying suit claims Texas school district ignored bullying, destroyed evidence

Courthouse News Service reports that the parent of a middle school student who committed suicide has filed suit against the president and vice-president of the Cy-Fair Independent School District and Hamilton Middle School’s principal and vice-principal. Amy Brown Truong, who brought the suit on behalf of her son Asher Brown’s estate, alleges that her son committed suicide after a bully kicked him down two flights of stairs at school. Her suit charges that school officials developed a “custom of looking the other way,” and that after her son’s suicide the district destroyed video of the boy being bullied in school and on the bus.

According to the suit, although the school and district adopted a policy to deal with bullying in response to recent federal and state legislation, officials “failed to put these policies into practice, … only gave these concerns ‘lip service,’ and turned a ‘blind eye’ to the problem.”  The mother claims that even when her son filed a written complaint about students bullying him, and teachers saw it, they did nothing. “Asher was a victim of incessant bullying by a number of students,” Truong says. “He was made fun of because of his size, because he had a lisp, because he was a Buddhist and because ostensibly he was gay.”  The complaint contains a lengthy history of recent school bullying in the United States, and the resulting suicides. More than 1,600 children from 10 to 14 years old killed themselves from 1999 to 2006, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

The mother alleges:  “On the day or so before Asher’s death, he was kicked down a flight of stairs and had his books also kicked and scattered across the ground, with a number of other students watching and leering the offending [sic]. But it did not stop there, when Asher attempted to gather himself up he was kicked down another flight of stairs. In response Asher shouted that if the bully didn’t apologize then Asher would kill himself.” She adds: “The main bully W.D. was punished by missing one football game.”

The complaint alleges that a few days after Asher’s suicide Mr. & Mrs. Truong went to the school and met with the principal, Mrs. Ify Oqwumike. “She specifically told them that ‘We don’t punish our bullies here anymore because I don’t want their parents coming up here getting in my face or calling us demanding why their child was punished ….’”

The complaint claims  “school district staff have destroyed and withheld evidence including but not limited to incident reports filed by Asher and other students about bullying and harassment, videos of Asher and others being bullied and harassed during school and on the bus, documentation of David Truong signing into the school to meet with school officials, videos of David Truong coming to the school to meet with school officials as well as documentation of telephone and email communications from Amy and David Truong to and from school officials.” And finally: “Students reported that they were told that if they spoke about Asher, the bullying and his suicide, they would be punished,” the complaint states. Amy and David Truong now advocate for anti-bullying laws, and recently spoke to the Texas Legislature.

Amy Truong seeks punitive damages from Dr. John Ogletree, president of the Cy-Fair Independent School District’s board; superintendent David Anthony; Ify Ogwumike, Hamilton Middle School’s principal; and Alan Durham, the school’s assistant principal.

Source: Courthouse News Service, 4/22/11, By Cameron Langford

[Editor's Note:  The complaint, which alleges Section 1983 claims for violations of the First and Fourteenth Amendments, Title IX, Section 504, the Texas Family Code, as well as the state torts of wrongful death and survival, and destruction of evidence, is available at the first link below.

In April 2011, the St. Petersburg Times reported that the parents of a student who committed suicide in 2009 had filed a federal lawsuit against the Hillsborough School Board (HSB) claiming school officials failed to take proper steps after learning their daughter showed signs of being suicidal. A summary of the article is available at the second link below.

In January 2011, Courthouse News Service reported that the parents of a student who committed suicide by hanging in a bathroom at his elementary school  filed suit in a Texas federal district court against Lewisville Independent School District (LISD). The suit charges that LISD failed to keep the student safe from harm, and was deliberately indifferent to complaints that he was being bullied. A summary of the article is available at the third link below.]

Legal complaint

NSBA Legal Clips archive on suit against HSB

NSBA Legal Clips archive on suit against LISD

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