HUDSON — A check on the personnel files of the school administrators named in an Oct. 31 bullying lawsuit shows no disciplinary issues, after the Hudson City School District made the information available last week.
Hudson City School District staff who are named in the suit, including Kimberly Cockley, middle school principal; Michael Miller, unit principal at the high school; Jeffrey Morris, East Woods assistant principal; Roberta Wallack, middle school counselor; and Karen Weber, assistant principal at the middle school, showed no disciplinary issues in their personal files. All had "skilled" or "accomplished," the second and first highest ratings, respectively, on their reports and staff reviews.
The Hudson City School District and 18 other staff, parents, students and administration members are currently facing civil litigation from the mother of a student who alleges her juvenile son was bullied for more than three years. The personal injury suit alleges the boy suffered concussions and a broken arm, among other stated injuries, over that period.
According to information provided by the school district, between 2012 and 2017, there were 28 harassment cases and 10 bullying cases at the high school; 30 harassment cases and three bullying cases at the middle school; and three harassment cases and one bullying case at East Woods. There were no verbal threats reported at the high school; 10 at the middle school; and two cases at East Woods.
There were no reported cases at Ellsworth Hill or Evamere, and one bullying incident reported at McDowell in 2013.
"Every suspected incident of bullying is taken very seriously, investigated at the building level, and addressed promptly; however, research shows that the most effective practices are those that establish a positive culture in the schools," said Superintendent Phillip Herman.
The Oct. 31 suit, filed with the Summit County Court of Common Pleas, is seeking damages of more than $25,000, but does not specify an exact number.
There are six counts to the suit, including the district’s "failure to protect the minor" which constitutes "negligent, reckless, willful, and wanton conduct," and harassment and assault by other students.
It also alleges that the parents are liable for the damages caused by the students.
Ken Myers, an attorney who has represented plaintiffs in bullying and hazing cases around Ohio, said parents can be held liable in bullying cases under the state's "parental responsibility statute," with damages capped at $10,000 per incident.
There are limits, however. While emotional distress, depression and suicidal behavior can be included in a complaint, the one vital ingredient in a successful lawsuit would be proven physical harm, said Myers.
"So if an allegation is just that a kid teases another kid, called him names, that probably would not create a liability for parents," said Myers. "But if a kid punched another kid and broke his nose or something, then a parent could be responsible medical bills, for physical pain and suffering."
In the Hudson case, injuries including concussions and a broken arm are alleged.
"That would definitely be something that statute could hold the parents responsible for," said Myers.
Similarly, said Myers, courts generally do not hold school districts liable for verbal bullying, such as teasing or name calling.
"You have to prove some physical contact and generally more than one," said Myers, adding that it also needs to be proven the district was "deliberately indifferent."
"What that means is they knew about the situation and turned a blind eye and intentionally didn't take action to prevent it from happening again."
In addition, said Myers, state law limits the liability of school employees in lawsuits.
"Most individual school employees have what is called qualified immunity which shields them from some lawsuits like this," said Myers.
Schools employ anti-bullying measures
According to Herman, the district employs the Safe Schools, Safe Community Helpline (800-418-6423, ext. 397), which allows individuals to leave an anonymous if they suspect bullying or harassment.
People also can text to 66746, then type TIPS, or visit www.safeschoolhelpline.com online.
The helpline is free to callers and confidential, according to information from the district, and provides 24-hour availability for suicide prevention and mental health counseling by trained counselors.
Herman said the Ohio Department of Education requires that Ohio school districts also implement Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports.
"Our buildings continue to embrace Positive Behavioral Intervention and Supports. This is reflected in all of the great programs, practices and expectations that are in place to establish a positive climate," Herman said. "Each building continues to review their PBIS practices ... through assemblies, classroom lessons, and/or video announcements."
Herman said building principals and administrators also annually update their PBIS building matrices as needed, provide leadership opportunities, positive motivators, or reinforce through advisor/advisee groups, freshman orientation and mentor opportunities — all in an attempt to develop positive cultures.
Herman encourages parents and students to report bullying incidents to school officials as soon as possible, and to provide specific information on the incident.
In the 2015-16 school year, 15,010 students were suspended or expelled for harassment, intimidation, bullying and unwelcome sexual conduct in Ohio.
This is the sobering statistic from SaferSchools Ohio which, formed as a collaborative effort between the Ohio Department of Higher Education and the Ohio Department of Education.
This is an increase from 2006-07 school year, when 10,811 students were suspended or expelled.