K-12 DIGEST: Lousiana School Sued, Accused of Allowing Student Bullying

An elite private school in Ruston, LA is being sued by the parents of a former student, who allege that administrators allowed for widespread bullying and assault of their formerly enrolled child.

The Monroe News-Star reports on the suit, filed last week in Louisiana District Court, which

The suit alleges several of the student’s peers organized an event called “Hell Day” on May 13. Organizers were encouraging each other to “bully him at least once,” per an online post. On the day of the incident, the student was chased around the school and put into a headlock by multiple students.

Starting eight months prior, the lawsuit claims, the student experienced “verbal insults, physical assaults and sexual battery” weekly. Additionally, the lawsuit alleges the school was aware of ongoing bullying but failed to “implement any effective intervention” to stop it. 

Several parents of the alleged bullies in the suit also work at the school as coaches. The school says that disciplinary action was taken against students identified for alleged bullying and that it instituted a tip line to report alleged intimidation among the student body.

The profile on schools’ culpability in bullying case law is growing higher in recent years with the increased focus on student mental health, ability equity, and administrative oversight rules. In June, the Cincinnati Public Schools district moved to settle a wrongful death lawsuit after the suicide of Gabriel Taye, an 8-year-old who hanged himself after being bullied.

In that case, the school was proved to having insufficiently alerted the parents of the bullying, which led to a federal court clearing the way for a lawsuit. This case presents many of the same possibilities to fit neatly with precedent like this from similar suits around the country. But, it adds a different wrinkle in that the parents of the alleged bullies are also school employees, meaning that in a trial, they will face a legal test of the obligation to stop bullying as parents through forcing or encouraging better behavior, or to report their own children as alleged perpetrators of bullying and avail them to consequences and legal jeopardy.

What happens to the culture of an elite school with a small population that has now attracted a big headline for the wrong reasons? Will the parents of the alleged instigators be disciplined for failing to discipline their children according to the school’s handbook for employees? If not, should the administration of the school face legal penalties beyond unspecified damages in a lawsuit?

In a red state like Louisiana, where will judicial officials come down on the responsibility of student behavior – parents or schools? Is it possible for both to beat equal claim, given the simple geography of where school students spend the majority of the day?

Whatever the outcome, this is certainly a case worth watching.