Ohio parents of boy who killed himself over bullying can sue educators, court rules

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A federal appeals court on Tuesday ruled that the parents of an 8-year-old boy who killed himself because he was repeatedly bullied can sue the Cincinnati school district.  

The three-judge panel of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court Appeals said Gabriel Taye's parents had established "reckless behavior" that prevents school officials from receiving governmental immunity for their handling of the case.

FILE: A photo of Gabriel Taye when he was in second grade. 
(Cornelia Reynolds via AP)

Cornelia Reynolds and Benyam Taye, allege that school officials either misrepresented bullying attacks on their son, Gabriel Taye, or failed to inform them. The court ruling says that administrators at Carson Elementary didn't call 911 when Gabriel was knocked out, failed to punish the bullies, didn't tell teachers of problems, didn't supervise the bathroom despite repeated bullying, and withheld information.

In their complaint, the parents accuse school officials with intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress and failure to report child abuse. Gabriel was bullied at his elementary school starting in first grade, and the bullying escalated when he was in third grade, according to the lawsuit.

Gabriel was punched and kicked by students in assaults and on Jan. 24, 2017, he was knocked unconscious after being throwing against a bathroom wall, according to the lawsuit.

He stayed home sick the next day, returned to school on Jan. 26 and was bullied again in the bathroom by students who took his water bottle and tried to flush it down the toilet, his parents say. Gabriel killed himself that evening in his bedroom.

They "ultimately, prevented Taye's parents from fully understanding Gabriel's horrifying experience at Carson Elementary until it was too late," Judge Bernice Bouie Donald wrote. The opinion noted that the school's safety guidelines warned that suicide can result from bullying.

"This is a preliminary decision based on plaintiffs' side of the story and assuming that everything they say in their complaint is true," the defendants' attorney, Aaron Herzig, said by email. "However, it does not reflect the facts as they have developed throughout this case."

He declined to say whether there would be further appeals of the ruling, which upheld a lower court.

"The truth about what happened to Gabe at Carson Elementary needs to be revealed and shared with all parents," Jennifer Branch, attorney for the Gabriel's mother, said by email. "We have been able to gather testimony and evidence these last few months. Now we can proceed to trial."

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The Cincinnati school district could not be reached for comment.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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