In my previous post on this subject (apologies that I haven’t followed it up earlier,) I discussed the ongoing tragedy of bullying in schools, and of how the most recent victim was a young girl in South Hadley by the name of Phoebe Prince, who committed suicide after repeated abuse by a group of girls at South Hadley High School. I also discussed how, up until perhaps now, there has been almost no statutory vehicle in Massachusetts to attach civil liability to school administrators or personnel – public or private – for injuries and harm done to children bullied at school. A recent Massachusetts Superior Court decision may – just may – have opened the door to legal changes much needed in this area of civil justice.
The case, Parsons, et. al., vs. Town of Tewksbury, et. al., involved a Tewksbury Middle School student and his parents who sued the Town of Tewksbury and school personnel for negligence, and other counts, in not intervening to protect this student from repeated bullying by other classmates at the school. The case reveals a shocking level of violence inflicted against the young student, and even more shocking negligence in the form of inaction by school personnel to intervene and protect this young boy from savage abuse at the hands of other students. The facts are truly horrific. I trust that my readers are familiar with the term “Dumbing Down”, to describe how people are in general nowhere near as well educated in this country as they were in decades past (and if anyone has any doubts about that, just watch one of Jay Leno’s famous “Jay Walking” pieces, where he asks average Americans questions about the most basic subjects, and 99% don’t have a clue as to the answers.) While stories like this case from Tewksbury must be told, I believe that in the process they can create a “Numbing Down” in people: The effect is that, horrific as a story like this is, it fails to provoke outrage or shock in people. The reason: Violence and indifference is so increasingly widespread in our culture. Too many people read of horrific stories like this, and just turn the page. I hope that won’t happen here. I wish to also say that, while some lawyers see hope in this decision, as a Boston injury attorney, I find this decision disappointingly weak. It’s my legal opinion that this judge should have found liability against the town and the school in this case (which he did not,) and that he should have issued much stronger language.
The case begins in April 2006 with young Nicholas Parsons, a student at Tewksbury’s Wynn Middle School, who was being repeatedly assaulted and battered by a group of other students at this school. Young Parsons reportedly had fallen out of friendship with a group of male students who made it a practice of harassing and threatening weaker students. Parsons told the school guidance counselor, Adam Colantuoni (who was also named as one of the defendants in the suit,) that these bullies had been harassing him repeatedly. The plaintiffs’ suit alleges that Colantuoni took little to no action to halt the assaults. Not long after Parsons had reported the problem to Colantuoni (the school’s “guidance counselor”,) the leader of the bullying group, a student by the name of Tyler Willette, ordered another student to slam Parsons’ head with a book. Not only did this other student carry out this order, he did it in the presence of a teacher, who sent the attacking student to the school’s “behavior management facilitator,” a man by the name of Robert Ware (who was also a named defendant in this suit.) By all credible accounts, Ware neglected to discipline the assaulting student, instead merely ordering the boys to apologize to each other. In the event you’re wondering where this gets worse, read on.