Lawsuit: Bullying drives ten-year-old special needs child to the brink of taking his own life

Lawsuit: Bullying drives ten-year-old special needs child to the brink of taking his own life
The lawsuit claims there were four known incidents of bullying. The first incident happened two weeks after the child’s enrollment. (Source: AP)

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - A mother is suing the Charleston County School District claiming it didn’t handle multiple incidents of bullying appropriately which ultimately led to her 10-year-old trying to take his own life.

The lawsuit, filed last week, claims the child has an intellectual disability.

He was enrolled at Deer Park Middle School on August 17, 2017. CCSD employees at Deer Park were made aware the boy suffered from an intellectual disability and that he had an Individualized Education Plan in place that required accompaniment by a CCSD employee while on school property, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit claims there were four known incidents of bullying. The first incident happened two weeks after the child’s enrollment.

“There has been an egregious pattern of school bullying and campus assault within the Charleston County School District, as evidenced by the numerous civil filings against the CCSD in recent years,” attorney Christy Fargnoli said. “This represents a systemic failure on the part of the CCSD to take necessary and appropriate action to prevent, investigate and respond to these bullying incidents.”

The fourth bullying incident happened on October 9, 2017. The lawsuit claims surveillance video shows the 10-year-old sitting alone on the floor of the school gym when four students approached him and began “aggressively circling and taunting him.”

The next day, according to the lawsuit, the child tried to take his own life.

“Following the suicide attempt, the CCSD conducted an investigation, which involved statements from the students who were seen on the surveillance video,” the lawsuit states. “The students variously admitted to calling [the child] a ‘cripple’ and saying that ‘he rides the handicapped bus.’”

The CCSD investigation resulted in an admission by the Deer Park Middle School Principle that the school was unable to provide the level of accommodation required by the child’s IEP and that this has been known by the CCSD since the child’s enrollment, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit alleges that the CCSD failed to follow its own policies and procedures, industry standards and federal law.

Following the child’s suicide attempt, a complaint was filed with the South Carolina Department of Education’s Office of Special Educational Services against the CCSD. The lawsuit alleges that the CCSD failed to follow its own policies and procedures, industry standards and federal law.

The OSES determined the district had three violations.

“The Charleston County School District failed to take appropriate action to address this disability-based bullying and it drove a ten-year-old special needs child to the brink of taking his own life,” attorney Sam Clawson said. “We are taking action in the only way the law allows - by seeking a significant award of actual and punitive damages to send a message to not only the CCSD, but to school districts across the State of South Carolina, that there is zero tolerance for bullying.”

The Individuals With Disabilities Act requires public schools to create an IEP for every child receiving special education services. An IEP addresses how a disabled child’s unique learning issues and educational goals can be met.

Charleston County School District spokesman Andy Pruitt said the district does not comment on pending litigation.

Copyright 2019 WCSC. All rights reserved.