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California school district ordered to pay former student $1 million for failing to protect her from bullies

Last week, a California school district was ordered to pay a teenager $1 million for failing to protect her against middle school bullies. The jury cited El Segundo Unified School District’s negligence as a significant factor contributing to the harm inflicted on former student Eleri Irons.

According to Irons’ attorney, Christa Ramey, the jury ordered the California school district to pay $700,000 for past pain and suffering and $300,000 for any future emotional distress, NBC News reported.

Ramey stated that the prolonged bullying Irons suffered led her to cut herself. The teenager was also diagnosed with PTSD as a result of the harassment.

Now 18 years old, Irons filed the lawsuit against the district in April 2019 for failing to take action against three middle school bullies.

Irons formerly attended El Segundo Middle School, where she alleged that three of her classmates bullied her from November 2017 to June 2018. The lawsuit stated that the bullying occurred on school property and on field trips.

Irons alleged that the students verbally harassed her, texted her mean comments, and spread rumors. The school was made aware that the three classmates had started a petition called “Let’s Kill Eleri Irons” in June 2018.

“When this petition was discovered by Teachers, they failed to notify the parents of Claimant in any manner,” the Irons’ lawsuit said. “The gross negligence by School, Teachers, Principal, and District resulted in significant physical and psychological trauma to Claimant.”

Los Angeles County Superior Court found that the school district reacted negligently to the petition by failing to notify parents. The court also determined that the district was negligent when training and supervising its staff. It cited the negligence as a “substantial factor” in causing Irons’ emotional trauma.

“This is not just about her. When other kids speak up in the future, schools will listen. I think that’s what the verdict says. These cases with emotional harm to a child are lifelong and lasting and they are serious. And schools need to give more than just lip service to anti-bullying policies, they actually need to implement them,” Ramey said.

“As we move forward, we are committed to self-improvement and doing everything we can to prevent bullying in our schools,” the El Segundo Unified School District said in a statement. “We have taken a number of actions to make this happen. These include adding two Student Safety Assistant positions at Center Street and Richmond Street elementary schools, the adoption of a tailored security assessment for all schools, and the implementation of a comprehensive school district safety plan.”

The district’s statement continued, “Additionally, we have implemented a series of recommendations from a third-party comprehensive safety assessment that was conducted in 2018. These include behavioral threat assessment protocol training for staff, the use of We Tip website to anonymously report concerns related to bullying, physical safety enhancements at our middle and high schools, and two new safety staff members. As an extra layer of protection, our Gaggle alert system flags any potential bullying occurring online.”