Cincinnati school argues for immunity in suicide of bullied student

Cincinnati school argues for immunity in suicide of bullied student

A Cincinnati school is arguing in federal court for immunity over the suicide of a bullied 8-year-old student, saying they are not responsible under the law for preventing all violence between students.

Attorney Aaron Herzig argued on behalf of former officials of Carson Elementary School on Wednesday that refusing immunity would be "opening up whole new vistas of liability" for schools, Courthouse News reported.

The case involves Gabriel Taye, who was found dead in his room by his mother in January 2017, two days after he was knocked unconscious by another student in the boys’ school bathroom, in an attack caught on video posted by The Washington Post.

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School officials allegedly did not call 911 over the incident and lied to Taye's mother, saying the boy had fainted. Taye's mother sent him back to school after the bathroom incident, unaware of what happened, and other students reportedly flushed his water bottle down the toilet.

Parents Benyam Taye and Cornelia Reynolds filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the Cincinnati Board of Education and several school officials in 2017. They family alleges that the school misled them and covered up the attack and the prevalence of bullying.

But Herzig said in front of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit that the complaint did not make the right allegations of bullying as defined in Ohio law because it used the term “aggressive behavior.”

Attorney Jennifer Branch, who is representing the family, countered by telling the judges the phrase was taken out of the school’s handbook on bullying.

“These parents had no idea how dangerous his third-grade school was,” Branch told Courthouse News. “These parents had no idea what was going on at Carson Elementary School.”

Branch told The Hill that Reynolds did not read the complaint before judges cross-examined the defense because it was "too hard for her" to hear what happened to her son.

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"The arguments went very well for us in the Sixth Circuit yesterday," Branch said. "And it was difficult for Gabe’s mom to hear the judge’s cross-examining the school board about their claim that Gabe was not bullied in third grade."

The school had previously called for the case to be dismissed, a move denied by District Judge Timothy Black, an Obama appointee. The school appealed his decision to let the lawsuit move forward.

Principal Ruthenia Jackson and assistant principal Jeffrey McKenzie, both named in the suit, have since moved on from the elementary school, according to local television station WCPO Cincinnati

Lauren Worley, the chief communications officer for Cincinnati Public Schools, said their "hearts are broken by the loss of this child."

"There is no question that Taye’s death is tragic," the motion to dismiss stated, according to Worley. "But the question raised by this suit is whether the Board and school administrators are responsible for it. A careful review of the complaint and the law shows that the defendants did not violate Taye’s rights and did not cause his death or the corresponding suffering of his parents."

Updated at 3:26 p.m.