What is bullying?
A Beaufort High School student attempted suicide in October 2017 after the Beaufort County School District failed to protect her from name-calling, bullying and physical assaults, according to a lawsuit filed in Beaufort County.
The suit was filed on Aug. 1 on behalf of an unnamed girl, who was an 18-year-old student at Beaufort High School at the time of the incident, as well as on behalf of her mother.
J. Olin McDougall II of the McDougall LawFirm LLC, which has offices in Beaufort and on Hilton Head Island, is representing the student and her mother.
“I think (this case) highlights the risk and exposure that children and students have as a result of bullying, whether in schools or otherwise,” McDougall said.
The suit claims the school district knew, or should have known, that the student had experienced “daily physical assaults” — slapping and punching by other students and “having her arms held by the wrists, above her head and against lockers” — that caused physical bruising and emotional injury.
It further claims that the district knew, or should have known, that the student also was “spanked on her behind” and called a “slut,” “whore,” “skank” and “white trash” by peers.
The suit states that the student, her mother and her father notified employees at the school about the bullying and harassment from peers.
As a result of the incidents, the student allegedly started cutting herself and eventually attempted suicide on Oct. 19, 2017, the lawsuit says.
The suit also claims that the school district “recklessly inflicted severe emotional distress” on the student and her parent when it failed to abide by and implement its own policies and procedures, including those related to bullying, discrimination, sexual harassment and suicide prevention.
The lawsuit alleges that the school district acted “grossly negligent” by failing to properly hire, train and supervise its employees to ensure that they knew how to deal with sexual harassment and bullying and to ensure the student was provided adequate supervision and care.
No specific actions from faculty members or administrators were listed in the suit as a cause for the student’s attempt to end her life.
McDougall declined to provide any additional information on how or why the district failed to abide by its policies and protect the student.
Yet, the suits states the school district was “so extreme and outrageous as to exceed all possible bounds of decency” and its failures were “utterly intolerable in a civilized community where safety and professionalism of educators is essential to public education in the community.”
The suit alleges that the student’s parent suffered economic loss as a result of her child’s injuries.
The parent and student are asking to recover unspecified damages caused by the school district’s “willful, wanton, reckless and careless acts and omissions,” the lawsuit says.
Jim Foster, spokesperson for the Beaufort County School District, declined to comment directly on the matter.
“While I can’t comment on this case specifically, I can say unequivocally that we take bullying very seriously,” Foster said.
He said that district staff members are trained how to respond to bullying incidents and students are educated on signs to look for.
Students’ iPads are preloaded with the app “See Something, Say Something” that allows them to anonymously report acts of bullying. The district then investigates each allegation and complaint, Foster said.