Incessant Bullying Can Cause Eating Disorder. In the fall of 2017, a thirteen-year-old boy named Liam had just started his 8th-grade year at Garden City Middle School in New York. Liam had made the school’s soccer team and was looking forward to playing with his teammates. Liam loved soccer, and, according to his mother, Deidre, he almost always had a soccer ball with him. However, just a couple of months into the school year, Liam had lost interest in soccer, in socializing, and even in eating.
According to a story on Yahoo!, Liam eventually had to stay in the hospital for weeks to recover from an eating disorder that was triggered by bullying from his classmates.
Deidre and Keith, Liam’s father, decided to share Liam’s story publicly. “Maybe it will protect another child in the future, just by raising the awareness,” Keith explained. “If we can’t protect our children, then we’ve failed as a society, as parents, it’s just awful,” he continued.
Keith said that before the bullying began, Liam was a “very happy, very positive” kid. He said, “I think you would be hard-pressed to find anyone to say a bad word about him.”
For the next year or so and before Liam was hospitalized, his parents began noticing changes in his behavior. Keith recalled, “He started to withdraw, he did not socialize with any friends anymore. He just wanted to be with me and his mom.”
As the summer after 7th grade drew to a close, Liam started expressing his dread of the new school year. Liam began making statements like “I don’t want to go back to school” and “I hate that school.” Keith first thought that Liam simply did not want summer to end, a sentiment many teenagers share.
Keith added, “I also noticed that he used to have a tremendous appetite, he would eat two breakfasts in the morning. Then all of a sudden, he stopped eating. We got incredibly concerned, so we took him to his pediatrician, and she measured his heart rate.”
After that appointment, Liam was hospitalized. He would spend the next five weeks at a local children’s hospital, missing birthdays and other celebrations with his family.
Depression Triggered By Bullying
He was diagnosed with an eating disorder, as well as depression, both of which were triggered by bullying. Liam’s malnutrition was so severe that he had to have a feeding tube and he had to wear a heart monitor.
Keith and Deidre had contacted Garden City Middle School before the first day of school to express their concerns. “We contacted guidance at the school, we said, ‘Can you please look out for him?’ and they assured us everything will be fine,” Keith remarked.
However, Liam was bullied the very first week of school. Keith said, “He started school on the Tuesday, and his birthday was that Friday, September 8, and that day comes, and he had a big bruise on his face. We asked him what happened; he said, ‘Oh, I tripped, I fell down the stairs.'” The following Sunday, Liam broke down in front of his parents, crying and saying that he did not want to go back to Garden City Middle School. At this point, Liam finally opened up about all of the bullying he had endured.
The true source of Liam’s bruise was another child shoving his face into his locker-on his birthday.
Deirdre, in a viral Facebook post that has been shared thousands of times, said, “He was told he was weird, he was fat, his freckles were weird, his eyebrows were weird.” Other students “used horrible language and called him nasty words,” and physically attacked him as well. According to Liam, this was his everyday life at school.
In a statement, Garden City Public Schools said that it was “deeply saddened to learn of a recent issue of bullying shared on social media. No child should ever be reluctant to come to school for fear of personal or emotional safety. Our first priority is to ensure the safety of every one of our students…We are jointly attempting to further improve upon the resources and programs available to move toward the elimination of all forms of bullying in our school as quickly as possible.”
As word of the bullying spread around the country, thousands of people shared their support with the O’Brien family. The hashtag #WeStandWithLiam went viral, with many people wearing orange t-shirts with the phrase printed on it.
Liam’s parents were told that the school’s investigation into the bullying concluded that the allegations were unfounded. Determined to pursue justice for their son, Liam’s family has decided to pursue legal action against Garden City Union Free School District and has selected Nicholas Warywoda of Parker Waichman LLP as their attorney. A “Notice of Claim” was filed against the school. The lawsuit describes the bullying Liam suffered and argues that the school failed to provide a safe environment for him, namely one free from physical abuse, harassment, intimidation, taunting, and bullying both on school property and at school events.
As to what the family is seeking in the lawsuit, Mr. Warywoda commented, “The only thing we can seek is monetary damages, through the court case, but what the family and we would like to see is that bullying should never happen to anyone else again. Liam was the victim of physical and verbal bullying in the school’s locker rooms and hallways and on the soccer field at school.”
The school is accused of failing to properly monitor its students, especially in areas where bullying could occur, such as locker rooms. Though cameras may not be installed in locker rooms, they may be installed in other areas that could catch bullies in the act. The areas where Liam was bullied on campus were not subject to video surveillance.
The school has stated that it will be implementing a new anti-bullying program. The school website will have a form where students, parents, or others may submit concerns that a student is being bullied. The reports will be completely anonymous, and the school will post the submission and its response within two days.
As social media has grown to become more prominent in our society, it has become easier for students to bully other kids at school. Many social media users hide behind fake usernames and post cruel comments on profiles and in private messages. Others take a more passive approach, excluding children from online event invites, for example.
Bullying has been so extreme in some cases that kids have committed suicide. According to one report, suicide is the third leading cause of death in young people. Victims of bullying are up to 9 times more likely to think about killing themselves. Thousands of kids stay home from school every day because they are scared they will be bullied. Parents must discuss the dangers of bullying with their children.
At Parker Waichman LLP, we hold schools accountable for failing to protect our children.
If your child has been bullied, you may be able to file a legal claim against your child’s school district. To schedule your free consultation with Parker Waichman LLP, call 1-800-YOURLAWYER (1-800-968-7529).
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