Jim Porter: School liable for student’s bullying-caused suicide?
Paula and Christopher LeRoy suffered the immeasurable loss of their 15-year-old son Kennedy, who committed suicide in their home after he was bullied and harassed by several students at Ayala High School in Chino where Kennedy had just finished his sophomore year.
BULLYING BY FELLOW STUDENTS
Kennedy LeRoy attended Ayala during his freshman and sophomore years. He suffered from Tourette’s Syndrome, Sensory Integration Disorder, and borderline Asperger’s Syndrome. Most of his classes were virtual but he had two classes at school, one of which was cooking.
Several students, including one identified as M.D., bullied and harassed Kennedy during every cooking class. M.D. and his friends called Kennedy a “faggot” and told him “God hates fags.” They pushed him into the walls, threw things at him and told him he was annoying and to stop talking.
Kennedy reported the bullying to Ayala administrators who took action to address the situation, including having M.D. sign a “No Contact Contract.” Kennedy also signed one. Kennedy was referred to a psychiatrist and to Chino Human Services.
A few weeks later, Kennedy again complained about M.D.’s behavior which was causing him to suffer painful Tourette’s tics. However, he signed a report that M.D. had not spoken to him which M.D. confirmed.
Two days after the end of the school year, Kennedy wrote a suicide note and ended his life ingesting a fatal amount of Benadryl and Zoloft.
DID THE SCHOOL DISTRICT DO ENOUGH?
Kennedy LeRoy’s parents sued the Ayala school district and several administrators claiming their son committed suicide because of the bullying by M.D. and other students which the district negligently failed to address and prevent. The trial court ruled for the district determining it was immune from liability under Education Code section 44808. The LeRoys appealed.
SCHOOL IMMUNITY LAW
Ayala used section 44808 as a defense. That code essentially says that school districts, school boards and personnel are not responsible for the safety of any pupil at a public school at any time when the pupil is not on school property unless the district has undertaken to provide transportation for such student to and from school or has undertaken an off-campus school-sponsored activity and specifically assumed responsibility for the student.
The court of appeal ruled that section 44808 grants the district and its employees immunity for off campus student injuries unless the student is directly supervised during a specified undertaking … like a school-sponsored field trip.
As unimaginably painful as Kennedy’s suicide was for the LeRoys, because he was off campus and not being supervised by school personnel, Ayala and the school administrators were not legally responsible.
Having lost my incredible younger brother Rob to suicide, I share the LeRoys’ pain.
If anyone is having suicidal thoughts or knows anyone who may, please talk to a friend or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.
Jim Porter is an attorney with Porter Simon licensed in California and Nevada, with offices in Truckee and Tahoe City, California, and Reno, Nevada. Jim’s practice areas include: real estate, development, construction, business, HOAs, contracts, personal injury, accidents, mediation and other transactional matters. He may be reached at email@example.com or http://www.portersimon.com
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