Parents who say son was bullied sue Nowata Public Schools
BY KIM ARCHER World Staff Writer
Thursday, November 29, 2012
11/29/12 at 8:36 AM
See the lawsuit: Read the full lawsuit filed by T.J. and Jennifer Sutherlin.
NOWATA - The parents of a 12-year-old boy who has Asperger's syndrome are suing Nowata Public Schools in federal court, alleging that the school district failed to investigate or act after receiving complaints from the family that their son was being "bullied, harassed, physically assaulted and called names every day."
In the lawsuit filed Nov. 15 in the Tulsa-based U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Oklahoma, T.J. and Jennifer Sutherlin allege that school district personnel, some of whom observed the incidents, did nothing to intervene.
According to court documents, the parents claim that their child repeatedly was called names, shoved, hit and kicked while at school during the 2011-12 school year.
The lawsuit alleges that even after meeting with numerous district staff members, including the elementary school's principal, the boy's mother was told that the bullying was "just boys being boys" and that "kids are mean."
The parents allege that students at their son's elementary school called him names such as "retard," "weird," "homo" and "freak."
According to court documents, the student was hospitalized twice for "anxiety, agitation, mood swings, rage, depression, suicidal ideation, and homicidal thoughts," which his parents claim were a result of the bullying.
"Upon being hospitalized, (the boy) stated that he had plans of harming himself and his mother because she continued to send him to school where he was bullied," according to documents.
According to the boy's medical records, which are quoted in the lawsuit: "He says he wants to kick (his bully's) teeth in, set him on fire, roll him down the hill, kick his brains in and eat his brains. ... He claims to hear voices that tell him to harm others and become more frequent when he gets angry."
A physician's note said the boy was so frustrated and angry that he bit a hole in his hand and "states he feels like if he goes to sleep at home tonight he might hurt his parents."
The lawsuit alleges that even though the school district maintains a zero-tolerance bullying policy, the "actions of the school district reflect a deliberate indifference to these policies."
The district allowed a "culture where bullying and harassment was rampant to fester," the lawsuit alleges.
The claimants are seeking actual and punitive damages, along with attorneys' fees.
Under Oklahoma law, punitive damages cannot be rendered in any action or claim against a school district.
In response to the allegations, Bo Rainey, an attorney for Nowata Public Schools, said, "The district is disadvantaged from responding to these allegations in the complaint because of state and federal privacy laws regarding the student at issue.
"The district looks forward to addressing these claims in court when the true facts regarding them can come to light," he said.
Original Print Headline: Parents say son bullied, sue school
Kim Archer 918-581-8315