Former Student Sues High School Under Mass. Anti-Bullying Law

By Brett Snider, Esq. on August 08, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

A high school graduate from a Massachusetts public school filed a $2 million federal suit against the school district, its officials, and the towns in which the school district is located, creating the first suit of its kind to be brought under Massachusetts' Anti-Bullying Law.

Eighteen-year-old Isabella "Belle" Hankey alleges that the bullying she experienced during her time at Concord-Carlisle High School, which included "death threats, crude slurs, . . . and feces smeared on her car," caused her to suffer a pulmonary embolism, reports The Boston Globe.

Hankey finished the rest of her senior year in an alternative school program following her embolism, but should the school be responsible?

Bullying at Concord-Carlisle High

Hankey claims that her bullying began in October 2011 when her car was keyed, and escalated to February 2012 when the same car's driver's side door was "smeared with feces," reports the Globe.

Then there were the graffiti death threats, with some general "Kill Belle" messages and some as poignant as "Belle's dead at 9:15," reports CBS.

Massachusetts' Anti-Bullying Law of 2010 specifically prohibits bullying on school grounds and school equipment and even outside of school grounds when it "creates a hostile environment at school for the victim."

Hankey filed her lawsuit in Massachusetts federal court on Monday, alleging that the school's inaction in stopping bullying, as prescribed by state law, was a violation of her civil rights.

Civil Rights Claims

The bullied Belle sought compensation from the school district and the cities of Carlisle and Concord under Title IX, Section 1983, and the equivalent sections of Massachusetts civil rights laws.

Her complaint asserts that the school district and its administrators not only were aware of her bullying but in the case of Alan Weinstein, allegedly destroyed the records of the school's bullying investigation, reports the Globe.

Under the Supreme Court's ruling in Davis v. Monroe County Board of Education, it is possible to assert a private cause of action for damages under Title IX when sexual peer-on-peer harassment is so "severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive" that it deprives a student of her educational opportunities or benefits at the school.

Massachusetts' Anti-Bullying Law's affirmative obligation to create anti-bullying programs may be the key to this case being distinguished from other federal bullying cases in other circuits, who have denied that Section 1983 can be used as a portal for private torts arising from student-on-student bullying.

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