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Parents who blame bullying for son's suicide seek to sue Irvine Unified

Parents of a late 14-year-old high school student say their son was driven to suicide because school employees failed to protect him from incessant bullying, according to court documents filed last week that ask a judge to clear the way for the family to sue.

Tyler Kirkland shot himself in the head on Sept. 2 after enduring "severe verbal and physical harassment" throughout his freshman year at Irvine High School, according to a petition filed July 22 in Orange County Superior Court.

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In their filing, Tyler's parents, Kristi and Darrell Kirkland, ask for an extension of the typical six-month deadline to file a negligence claim, in which they seek unspecified monetary damages from the Irvine Unified School District.

The Kirklands' lawyers argue that Irvine High should have done more to help Tyler when classmates bullied him, allegedly by pulling on his clothes and pushing him and his backpack.

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"This was happening over and over again throughout the entire school year," attorney Jonati Yedidsion said.

It's unclear why classmates targeted Tyler, Yedidsion added.

The attorney said the Kirklands complained to school employees dozens of times but were told there was nothing the employees could do, or they were assured that the school would handle the situation.

But the abuse intensified, according to court documents.

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"They never actively approached any of the students, to our knowledge, to safeguard [Tyler] and make sure he was protected from the bullying," Yedidsion said.

An Irvine Unified spokeswoman declined to comment because the district does not publicly discuss pending litigation.

In February 2014, Irvine police investigated suicidal posts that Tyler made on Facebook, court documents state.

They reportedly determined that the bullying had pushed him to the idea of suicide, according to the petition. Yedidsion said police contacted school administrators and urged them to intervene, but it had no effect.

"For the remainder of the 2014 school year, Tyler was abused physically or tormented emotionally – oftentimes both – on a daily basis," the petition states.

When the bullying continued on the first day of his sophomore year, Tyler took his life.

"Feeling miserable and helpless to the situation, Tyler left Irvine High School and went to his grandparent's house," court documents state. "There, Tyler locked himself in the bathroom and proceeded to shoot himself in the head."

About seven months later, Kristi and Darrell Kirkland filed their negligence claim with the school district. It was denied based on the six-month deadline. Their petition now asks a judge to overturn the denial, which would, in effect, bypass the claims process and open the way for the Kirklands to sue in Superior Court, Yedidsion said.

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According to their petition, the Kirklands did not file their claim sooner because they were "reeling" from their son's death.

"Struggling with the realization that their son was gone, [they] were incapable of emotionally processing the incident for several months after their son's death," the document states.

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