Education Law

Judge Rules for School District in Suicide Death of Teen Featured in 'Bully' Documentary

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A federal judge in Georgia has granted summary judgment to a school district accused of deliberate indifference to the plight of a bullied student who committed suicide.

U.S. District Judge Harold Murphy ruled (PDF) for the Murray County school system in a case filed by the parents of 17-year-old Tyler Long, according to the Daily Report blog ATLaw. The case had attracted nationwide attention. ABC News covered the the youth’s problems in a report on school bullying, while Tyler’s parents appeared on Ellen and in a documentary called Bully, WRCB reports.

Tyler Long had Asperger Syndrome and was fixated on following the rules, a trait that made him unpopular with classmates at his school in Chatsworth, Ga., according to ABC. Murphy’s opinion included a suicide note Tyler wrote to his family.

At school, classmates taunted Tyler, pushed him, knocked the books out of his hands, called him names, and spit in his food, students testified. After his suicide, students wrote “we will not miss you” and “it was your own fault” on the walls, and some wore nooses around their necks to school.

Murphy found that Tyler was subject to severe and pervasive harassment as a result of “severe, nearly constant bullying.” But he said the school district did not have a constitutional duty to protect the youth from harm by private individuals. And the school was not liable for disability harassment, he said, because plaintiffs had been unable to “meet the high bar of deliberate indifference.”

“This is an emotionally charged case with very difficult facts,” Murphy wrote. “There is little question that Tyler was the victim of severe disability harassment, and that defendants should have done more to stop the harassment and prevent future incidents.” But the plaintiffs cannot establish a claim under disability law absent a showing a deliberate indifference, “a difficult, exacting standard.” In this case, he said, the school addressed every incident of harassment, and worked to prevent future bullying.

“At best, plaintiffs’ evidence demonstrates that defendants’ harassment prevention techniques were not always effective,” he wrote.

Last updated at 4:39 p.m. Tuesday.

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