The plaintiffs claim the defendants failed to intervene on behalf of the daughter who was subjected to a campaign of student bullying that lasted throughout the 2014-15 school year. Culminating with a suicide attempt by the daughter and departure from the middle school, the details outlined in the complaint read like an unimaginable ordeal that persisted because of inadequate reaction from the administration.
In response, School District Superintendent Bill Donohue said he could not comment specifically. “Not only because of the litigation, but also because I can never comment publicly about students or employees. We will defend the case vigorously, because we feel it has no merit.”
The episodes allegedly began in 2014 against Milton’s daughter, who is named as AM in the lawsuit. The allegations over time include verbal insults such as “kill yourself” and “drink bleach.” The claim says that AM’s locker was frequently vandalized, and that she was pushed and shoved on school grounds on several occasions.
Purportedly, the attacks were not contained to school hours or school property. The lawsuit says she was subjected to such insults as being called a “f- slut,” and told to “jump off a cliff,” “go die in a hole” and “cut yourself until you lose enough blood and die.” The complaint also claims that rocks were thrown at AM’s bedroom window, books were ripped from her backpack while walking home, and mail and a key were taken from the Miltons’ mailbox.
The defendants, according to the complaint, failed “to take any action to protect the plaintiff, AM, and/or prevent the bullying from continuing.” As a result, the claim asserts that AM would hide in the bathroom through many of her classes and at times walk aimlessly through the village of Armonk. The complaint says that the school failed to take notice, took no action and never notified her parents.
Furthermore, AM began to cut herself regularly and was treated by the school nurse at least twice and then sent back to class. Viewed by Lapple on one occasion, she allegedly instructed AM to “not do that anymore.”
The complaint also alleges that when a suicide note from AM was found, Lapple failed to advise school authorities or notify Laura Milton. After the attempt, AM was hospitalized for 12 days and then transferred to a private school.
As could certainly be expected, a discussion has spilled over into social media on the Facebook group “Armonk Moms.” The following comments were among many that were posted:
One of the more vehement is expressed here: “I hope Byram Hills is as appalled as I am. I think the Vice Principal and the Guidance Counselor named in the suit should all be immediately fired and that the school should be held responsible. With all the evidence and attempts by the family to stop this situation, the fact that nothing was done was beyond negligence,” said one post.
Another post urged restraint in deference of due process. “Having just read the complaint, I would advise to reserve judgement until all sides are heard. I understand completely that upon reading this, one could immediately lay blame on the school and administrators as alleged...but I prefer to wait until I hear the school’s response. A jury would do the same. Fact finding and depositions will bring forth the facts....not just the allegations. Let's see how it turns out. Put down your torches for now, and let's see what the school's response will be. That being said, this child should never have gone through what she apparently had.”
Another social media conversation emerged that mirrored the issue itself, and its unfolding begs an important lesson. On the first group in question, rules explicitly state that political issues are not acceptable for posting. Thus, the administrator felt the comments about the suit fell outside the guidelines.
After the thread was removed, another emerged, first expressing the need for civility on all fronts but then the reaction--and general disagreement--about the removal of the original thread.
One mother was dismayed by the removal and said, “The vast majority of the comments last night were NOT about this specific case but rather bullying in general and families' first-hand experiences and how they dealt with it. The offending response could have been deleted and the person warned.”
Along the same lines, another commenter felt the posting was crucial. “That article was important for people to know about, because regardless of the general outcome of the case, the issue of bullying is real and resulted in a conversation with my daughter.”
On the other hand, another person felt the subject matter was too personal for social media. She said, “It's an awful situation where an innocent child has been hurt. I believe that it should be discussed at home with our children.”
Another parent disagreed. “Sadly, the world we live in is such that social media is a part of our daily lives and simply another form of communication. As a mom to younger children, I would not have known about this, but for this discussion.”
Puting pragmatics above all other considerations, another post read, “If the discourse is respectful and kind, then social media is an opportunity to become better parents and join together in a positive way.”
Nonetheless, the Facebook page administrator invoked her rights as the gatekeeper to delete the thread. “The subject should be handled in a more appropriate forum with qualified experts who can guide and moderate. I have removed it from the page in an effort to protect our residents and in the hope they will find a more useful forum for the topic. All posts on this topic will be deleted.”
She then put a moratorium on the topic of bullying and stated that any future reference might result in permanent removal from the group.
The abrupt and arbitrary directive could draw comparison to the entire issue, but given that most of the dialogue was civil, participants should hopefully see clarity as the main consideration. The subject matter is out of the comfort zone of the administrator and should be respected.