Los Angeles school district ordered to pay $1m to student driven to self-harm after bullies threatened to kill her

A Los Angeles school district has been ordered to pay $1m in damages to a student after they didn’t properly address the actions of her bullies for almost a year.

A jury in Los Angeles County Superior Court ruled last week that the El Segundo Unified School District displayed negligence in how its staff was trained and supervised and that had harmful effects on Eleri Irons. Ms Irons attended El Segundo Middle School when the bullying began when she was 13 years old, legal filings state.

An April 2019 lawsuit levels accusations against the district that they failed to shield and advise the student while she was “bullied, tormented and verbally assaulted” by three fellow students between November 2017 and June 2018, the Los Angeles Times reported.

The suit states that one student initiated a petition titled “Let’s kill Eleri Irons”. Teachers discovered the petition but didn’t make Ms Irons’s parents aware of the situation, the lawsuit states.

Ms Irons, who suffered “significant physical and psychological trauma” according to the suit, is now 18 years old.

Attorney Christa Ramey said in a statement that her client “suffered PTSD, cut herself and sought refuge in the school nurse’s office nearly every lunch break”.

She added that school officials “dismissed the concerns” of her parents “as drama over a teen love triangle”.

“Every teacher, counselor and administrator who touched this case failed not only my client, but also the aggressors and every other student at the school,” Ms Ramey said. “Bullying is to be taken seriously and the administrators are culpable when they don’t stop it.”

Melissa Moore, the El Segundo schools Superintendent, said the school district has put in place two student safety assistant roles at two schools and that a safety plan has been enacted at all schools, according to the LA Times.

An outside security assessment has also provided recommendations to the district, such as putting in place an app where students can file reports concerning school safety, as well as training for employees in behavioural threat assessment measures, Ms Moore added, according to the paper.

In a statement, Ms Moore said, “as a school district, we respect the ruling of the court and acknowledge the findings of the lawsuit”.

“The next steps are up to our legal counsel. As we move forward, we are committed to self-improvement and doing everything we can to prevent bullying in our schools,” she added.

Ms Ramey accused Melissa Gooden, the former principal of the school and current executive director of human resources for the district, of falsely saying that she had contacted police when she was made aware of the death threat against Ms Irons on 13 June 2018.

Ms Irons’ father called Ms Gooden on that date, telling her that he was angry that the school had not told him about the petition, Ms Ramey alleged. The father supposedly told Ms Gooden that he would visit the school the following day to speak to Ms Gooden.

The police said they were called on 14 June, just minutes before the meeting with Ms Irons’s parents was set to begin, Ms Ramey claimed.

“She didn’t call the police that day. She attempted to make it seem like they did everything they could, but in reality, during the entire year, they didn’t do anything,” Ramey said. “They never investigated a single claim of bullying made by my client.”

The Independent has attempted to reach Ms Gooden for comment.

Ms Ramey said the police looked into the petition but didn’t discover a credible threat.

The El Segundo Police Department revealed to the LA Times that a criminal threat report was filed on 14 June 2018.

Two police officers interviewed Ms Irons and her father. He told the police about the petition calling for his daughter’s death and that the student who created it was asking for signatures at lunch.

The police report shared with the LA Times revealed that the student requesting signatures and another student who signed the petition were suspended.

In a press release, Ms Irons said that while she was traumatized by the events, she forgives the top perpetrator of the bullying.

“I am so thankful that I have been able to share my experience and to actually be taken seriously so that the next time a child asks for help, the school will address it the way they should have for me,” she said.