El Segundo school failed to stop bullies who started petition to end teen’s life, jury finds
The El Segundo Unified School District has been ordered by a jury to pay $1 million in damages for failing to stop middle schoolers from bullying a teenage girl for nearly a year.
A Los Angeles County Superior Court jury found last week that the school district’s negligence, including in supervising and training its employees, was a factor in causing harm to then-El Segundo Middle School student Eleri Irons, who was 13 when the bullying started, according to court records.
In a lawsuit filed in April 2019, the school district was accused of failing to supervise and protect the girl, who was “bullied, tormented and verbally assaulted” by three students from November 2017 to June 2018.
One student started a petition called “Let’s kill Eleri Irons,” according to the lawsuit, which said that after teachers found out about the petition, they didn’t notify Irons’ parents, resulting in “significant physical and psychological trauma.”
Irons, who is now 18, “suffered PTSD, cut herself and sought refuge in the school nurse’s office nearly every lunch break,” her attorney Christa Ramey said in a news release.
The girl’s parents asked for help from the school’s administrators and counselor, who “dismissed the concerns as drama over a teen love triangle,” Ramey said.
“Every teacher, counselor and administrator who touched this case failed not only my client, but also the aggressors and every other student at the school,” Ramey said in a statement. “Bullying is to be taken seriously and the administrators are culpable when they don’t stop it.”
Through distance learning Black parents were able to see how their children were treated by their peers and teachers and saw a system that did not benefit them, the report said.
El Segundo schools Supt. Melissa Moore said the district has added two student safety assistant positions at two elementary schools and implemented a safety plan for all schools.
The district is also following recommendations from a third-party security assessment, which include adding a phone app for students to report safety concerns and training staff members in behavioral threat assessment protocols, Moore said.
“As a school district, we respect the ruling of the court and acknowledge the findings of the lawsuit,” Moore said in a statement. “The next steps are up to our legal counsel. As we move forward, we are committed to self-improvement and doing everything we can to prevent bullying in our schools.”
Ramey accused former Principal Melissa Gooden, who is now the district’s executive director of human resources, of falsely claiming to have notified police as soon as she learned about the death threat against Irons on June 13, 2018.
That day, Irons’ father called Gooden and said he was angry that the school did not inform him of the petition, according to Ramey, and told Gooden he was going to the school the next day to speak with her. Police said they weren’t called until June 14, minutes before Irons’ parents were scheduled to meet with Gooden, Ramey said.
“She didn’t call the police that day. She attempted to make it seem like they did everything they could, but in reality, during the entire year, they didn’t do anything,” Ramey said. “They never investigated a single claim of bullying made by my client.”
Gooden did not respond to a request for comment Monday.
Four white men put up the antisemitic banners Sunday over a prominent overpass at UC Davis, according to university officials.
Police investigated the petition and found no credible threat, according to Ramey.
An El Segundo Police Department report shared with The Times shows that a criminal threat report was made June 14, 2018. Two officers spoke with Irons and her father, who told them a fellow student had created a petition to end Irons’ life and was going around at lunch asking for signatures. That student and a girl who signed the petition were suspended, according to the police report.
Irons said in a release that she was traumatized but forgives her main bully.
“I am so thankful that I have been able to share my experience and to actually be taken seriously so that the next time a child asks for help, the school will address it the way they should have for me,” she said.
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