NORTHAMPTON, Mass. (WWLP) – The mother of a Northampton High School student who died by suicide is suing the City of Northampton claiming that her daughter was subject to bullying, racial discrimination, and abuse.
The suit alleges that the student, who is referred to only as “N.M.” in court documents, was being bullied by a group of students in person and online.
It is noted in the court documents that the City of Northampton has a legal duty to assure the safety of its students, including Northampton High School.
Northampton’s definition of “bullying”
Bullying is described by the City of Northampton as the repeated use by one or more students, or by a member of the school staff, of a written, verbal, or electronic expression or a physical act or gesture or any combination directed at a victim that either causes physical or emotional harm to the victim, places the victim in reasonable fear of harm to themselves, creates a hostile environment at school for the victim, infringes on the rights of the victim at school, or materially and substantially disrupts the education process or the orderly operation of a school.
Northampton’s definition of “cyberbullying”
According to the City of Northampton, cyberbullying is bullying through the use of technology or electronic devices like telephones, cell phones, computers, and the Internet. It also includes emails, instant messages, text messages, and cyber postings.
Northampton’s definition of “harassment”
The City says harassment is unwelcome, intentional, unprovoked discriminatory behavior, toward an individual, motivated by membership in a protected category including race, color, religion, ethnicity/natural origin, disability, gender identity, sexual orientation, and age.
COURT DOCUMENTS: Mom of N.M. who died in suicide suing Northampton:
In September 2018, N.M. started at Northampton High School after being at Hilltown Cooperative Charter Public School in Easthampton and was making great progress with her engagement and academic challenges. Before starting school, N.M. was being bullied by a group of students her age that went to Northampton High School.
N.M.’s mother, which is referred to as Jane Doe in the court documents, met with different officials from Northampton Public High School to discuss an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) to make sure that N.M. would be given support in identifying emotional responses that created barriers and challenges with her academic activities and social interactions with peers and adults. At the meeting, Jane Doe alerted the Assistant Principal and N.M.’s new adjustment counselor, that she was being bullied.
When she began school, she immediately started being bullied and people would send messages through social media about N.M. leaving class, entering or leaving the building, and would do physical gestures towards her as if they were going to attack her. She would feel threatened and would be called names and make references to the fact that she was a biracial student.
N.M. and her mother would report the bullying constantly and filed multiple Bullying and Harassment Incident Report Tracking Forms and were allegedly told that it would be investigated. However, neither the Assistant Principal nor Northampton investigated the bullying incidents.
N.M. continued to be bullied at school, such as photos of her going out on social media with her counselor saying “she (her counselor) hates your guts too.” The high school knew about the social media post but did nothing to correct the situation.
Another IEP meeting was held on February 15th, 2019 and Jane Doe expressed to the officials that the bullying was still ongoing and N.M. was afraid to go to school because she did not want to get beaten up or harassed. One team member said that they had not reached the level of bullying to file a report, and no one took necessary actions with her Safety Plan.
In March 2019, N.M. did not feel comfortable going to school due to the bullying and her anxiety and depression increased. Then in May, N.M. attempted to take her own life because she was so fearful of going back to school that she would be better off dead.
The Department of Children and Families (DCF) did an investigation about the attempted suicide and spoke with her counselor. Her counselor allegedly intentionally lied about the level of bullying and classified it as a “peer-on-peer” conflict. The counselor also lied and said that N.M. and her mother never filed any reports and that she was the aggressor.
In July 2019, a website was then formed by the students about N.M. called ” Let’s Roast N.M.” where students made fun of N.M. When N.M. returned to school in September, she was placed into a special program at Northampton High School called The Academy, which was supposed to provide N.M. with special accommodations and protect her from bullying. The program was actually a behavioral program for students who were aggressive.
In September, N.M. was physically assaulted by two students who kicked her multiple times in the head, causing a concussion. The fight was videotaped, and her mental health began to deteriorate and her anxiety increased.
On September 10th, Jane Doe requested that N.M. would not be allowed to go back to school unless an adult was with her at all times to make sure she was protected, but despite this, she still experienced bullying. The bullying escalated into an altercation with a peer and was brought to the office where she made suicidal statements. Due to the altercation and the physical attack, N.M. was suspended for one day.
Another altercation occurred on October 22nd between her and a male student in her personal space. As she asked him to leave her space, she kicked the boy in his steel-toed boot, and she was suspended for two days.
On November 19th, a student went up to N.M. during class and started insulting her and physically threatening her. Their teacher instructed N.M. to leave the classroom to defuse the situation, and as N.M. was leaving the room, her teacher’s arm got caught in the door as she slammed it, and N.M. was given a suspension.
Jane Doe pulled N.M. out of Northampton High School because the school could not keep her safe after multiple Safety Plans and meetings. On December 15th, N.M. said that it was unfair that she could not continue to go to school because of her bullies. She cried out saying that she does not understand why the school could not keep her safe.
N.M. took her own life on January 30, 2020, at age 16.
The suit was originally filed in Hampshire District Court but has recently been moved to federal court in Springfield.