Monday, September 17, 2012
Boy’s mother dies as lawsuit against LISD over his suicide is dismissed
Following Friday's dismissal, Montana's mother, Deborah, died Saturday from a brain aneurysm.
LEWISVILLE A federal lawsuit filed against Lewisville ISD by the parents of Montana Lance has been thrown out of court.
Montana was found dead in the bathroom of the nurse's office at Stewart's Creek Elementary School in January 2010. The medical examiner ruled the 9-year-old had committed suicide by hanging himself in the bathroom.
The suit against LISD, filed a year later by Jason and Deborah Lance, alleged Montana was bullied by other children but the district did nothing to stop the harassment, ultimately leading to boy's suicide. The suit also alleged Montana was discriminated against due to his ADHD diagnosis and speech impairment.
Eastern District Magistrate Judge Amos Mazzant recommended the court dismiss several of the plaintiff's claims in May, writing there was no proof LISD employees discriminated against Montana under the Americans With Disabilities Act and that LISD was not obligated to protect Montana from "private violence" under the state-created danger theory.
In an order overruling the Lance's objections to Mazzant's recommendation, District Judge Ron Clark adopted Mazzant's recommendations, ending the case in LISD's favor.
"Nowhere in plaintiff's voluminous record is there any evidence that Montana was bullied or treated differently by school administration because of his disability, or his membership in any other federally protected class," Clark's order reads. "To the contrary, what plaintiffs' record reveals is defendants had a consistent policy of ignoring bullying against all students."
Martin Cirkiel, the family's attorney, said an appeal will be filed within the next 30 days.
"We were surprised and saddened," Cirkiel said. "We saw the judge's language that he was as outraged as we were about how the school did not handle the bullying properly. It was just that the judge thought it did not rise to the level of a constitutional or statutory violation, and we disagree."
Clark wrote in the order that LISD's handling of peer bullying in general is "inadequate," and that Montana's death might "have been preventable had defendants chosen to act on the subject of bullying." According to the order, students who claimed to be victims of bullying gave statements in support of the plaintiff's claims during the suit.
Karen Permitti, public information officer for LISD, said the district made several changes to its bullying policy in March 2012, in response to both the Texas Legislature's 2011 anti-bullying bill and the efforts of Superintendent Stephen Waddell, who was hired by the district in January 2011.
The new policies include expanding participation in the national Safe and Civil School behavior management initiative and boosting staff training regarding bullying and harassment at all grades and age levels.
"[The policy] is more encompassing," Permitti said. "The discipline is more structured. The definition of bullying has been expanded. ... What happens in a third grade classroom can be very different from what happens in a sixth grade classroom, so we're trying to make that age-appropriate."
Montana's mother, Deborah, who worked with several anti-bullying organizations following her son's death, died of a brain aneurysm Saturday.
The district maintains that bullying played no part in Montana's suicide, Permitti said.
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