Ashley Shupe is suing her son’s elementary school for not protecting him from alleged bullying. (Photo: WZTV)
The first time that second-grader Kaiden Shupe experienced taunting and was pushed and shoved by another student in 2013, according to his mother, Ashley Shupe, Shupe wrote a letter to his teacher.
The following month, when the Dickson, Tenn., mother says the 8-year-old revealed that he was being bullied again, she wrote a second note. But after the boy began to isolate himself, sank into depression, and then tried to choke himself in the weeks that followed, Shupe got serious about addressing the issue.
Last spring, she met with her son’s teacher, a guidance counselor, and the principal of Oakmont Elementary School to insist that Kaiden and his alleged tormenter not be in contact. Still, she says, the school allowed the two to mingle during recess, where last month she alleges that the other student threw a basketball at her son, hitting him in the face and bruising him.
Ashley and Kaiden Shupe (Photo: WZTV)
Shupe filed a police report, has since pulled Kaiden out of school, and on Monday filed a lawsuit against the Dickson County School District seeking $300,000 for what she says, per the documents, amounted to “negligence and deliberate indifference” to Kaiden’s educational rights.
“The emotional and terrible abuse that this child [has endured] has affected him tremendously,” Shupe told Nashville local news station WZTV. “I won’t send him back until I feel that he’s safe and protected.” (Oakmont Principal Misty Hodge didn’t respond to Yahoo Parenting’s request for comment.)
Ashley Shupe (Photo: WZTV)
The school’s website includes a comprehensive “Bullying Policy” that states, “A safe, civil, and supportive environment is necessary for students to learn and achieve high academic standards, and therefore prohibits acts of harassment, bullying, or intimidation.” The policy notes, “Consequences and appropriate remedial actions for bullying or harassment may range from positive behavioral interventions up to and including suspension or expulsion.”
But the policy didn’t help the Shupes (whom Yahoo Parenting could not reach for comment), and they’re not alone.
Parents are beginning to insist that schools be held accountable for their children’s alleged victimization. As Yahoo Parenting reported in January, Oregon dad Gregory Bang filed a $600,000 lawsuit against his son’s middle school for what he says was insufficient supervision of his son, who was bullied on campus.
The family of a fourth grader in Mount Prospect, Ill., sued the school district last June after their son was allegedly the victim of weekly attacks by a bully in his class. And the family of a 15-year-old boy in Enumclaw, Wash., sued his school district in October after he claimed that they failed to protect the teen from bullies who harassed him for two years.
“It’s really important that schools pay attention to the laws that protect kids in school,” Alexandra Penn, a crisis-intervention specialist and founder of Champions Against Bullying, tells Yahoo Parenting. “And sometimes the best way to get people’s attention is through their wallets. But more than anything, we can appreciate the fact that parents want to do whatever they can to protect their children. You don’t want your child to be a punching bag.”
Suing the administrations can be effective, she adds, because “everything starts at the top and filters down. Schools create the culture that says, ‘We’re not about bullying. We’re about standing together, safety, and respect.’”
Sameer Hinduja, PhD, co-director, Cyberbullying Research Center, acknowledges that it’s likely that the school districts know they must do something but perhaps aren’t doing enough. “Recent court cases have stated that a school simply disciplining the student who did the bullying, without following up to make sure that the bullying actually ceases and the target is safe from that point on, is not enough,” Hinduja, a professor of criminology and criminal justice at Florida Atlantic University, tells Yahoo Parenting. “The discipline has to be specific to the type of bullying, and it has to bear fruit.”
So while the expert says, “I definitely don’t want to encourage our society to be more litigious,” he insists, “we need schools to have clear action plans for response, and most importantly, for prevention so that these sorts of occurrences can be preempted.”