For months, attorney Bruce Nagel said, Rockaway Township middle-schooler Mallory Grossman was barraged with these messages, sent to her in texts and online postings from classmates. Her parents, Dianne and Seth Grossman, pleaded with the local school district for help, he said.
Dianne said she even called the mother of one of the classmates, only to be told it was all a joke and she shouldn’t worry.
But it was no joke. On June 14, 12-year-old Mallory Grossman died by suicide, Nagel said.
“Her life tragically ended when her own classmates used this cellphone to drive her into this tragedy,” Nagel, holding aloft a black iPhone, said Tuesday.
Nagel — with Dianne and Seth Grossman at his side — announced Tuesday that they planned to sue the Rockaway Township School District, claiming officials there failed to stop abuse that they believe led to Mallory’s death. Nagel said the family is contemplating taking legal action against the parents of the students who allegedly bullied Mallory as well.
During a Today Show segment Wednesday morning, host Matt Lauer told the Grossmans that her daughter did not seem to fit the description of someone who would be bullied — popular and an athlete.
Dianne Grossman described her daughter as an “All-American girl,” and someone everyone hopes their child grows up to be.
“To the girls that did this to her, she was what they could never be,” she said.
Dianne Grossman said the harassment of her daughter began in October.
“She talked about how horrible it was to be at school,” Dianne said of her daughter. “It would be dirty looks, harassment and name calling. The cold shoulder, the exclusion, I think played an important role.”
Dirty looks and name calling
Dianne, who remained composed throughout Tuesday’s press conference, said she regularly showed school officials “horrible” social media posts and texts sent to her daughter from three or four of her classmates. She said she and her husband were in contact with the school every month, “following up and staying on top of it.”
Still, the situation got worse. Mallory didn’t want to go to school anymore. She had chronic headaches and stomachaches, said her mother.
“At one point her grades plummeted,” said Dianne. “We reached out to the teachers and said I want to talk about academics as well as emotional well-being at school.”
Mallory’s grades went from A’s and B’s to C’s and D’s, Dianne said.
Nagel said the family went “all the way up the line” looking for help, approaching guidance counselors, teachers, the vice principal and principal of Copeland Middle School. Week after week, month after month, he said, “it fell on deaf ears.”
In an emailed statement, Rockaway Township School District attorney Nathanya G. Simon said the district had not yet received the Grossmans’ intent to sue.
“We anticipate that we will be able to make a statement soon,” Simon wrote.
Stuart Green, founder and director of the New Jersey Coalition for Bullying Awareness and Prevention, says school districts must investigate and document reports of harassment against students.
“The law requires that educators pay attention to whether a child is being hurt in a systematic way and investigate it, communicate with the parents of the hurt child and take steps to address it, including preventing further occurrences,” Green said.
Dianne Grossman said Tuesday that she “followed the school’s protocol” and school officials told her they would investigate but nothing was ever done.
Spike in suicides
Middle school suicides have spiked in recent years. Between 2007 and 2014, the annual rate of suicides among 10- to 14-year-olds more than doubled from 0.9 to 2.1 deaths per 100,000 middle-schoolers, according to the most recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
One of the factors said to be contributing to this rise is the use of social media, which experts say has led to an increase in bullying.
Green helped craft New Jersey’s anti-bullying law. He said the legislation was strong when it was written but now needs tweaking.
“The law has no specific discipline or measures put into it for when administrators and staff don’t address the issue adequately,” Green said.
In addition to their academic progress, Green said, educators need to be aware of their students’ “social and emotional status” so as to identify those who may be vulnerable to bullying.
“No anti-bullying advocates feel that we are near the end of addressing this problem,” said Green. “We are nowhere near addressing it adequately.”
source: usa today