Bullying Can Cause Eating Disorder. A thirteen-year-old at Garden City Middle School in New York should have been thrilled to make it onto the school’s soccer team. Instead, that is where the nightmare began for the O’Brien family.
Liam, an eighth-grader during the 2017-2018 school year, earned a spot on the soccer team that Fall. As the season progressed, Liam’s mother noticed severe changes in his behavior. He barely acknowledged his cell phone, and he quit hanging out with his friends. He even seemed uninterested in soccer, which he had loved. He began eating very little and dropped 10 pounds within a month or so during the summer break. On his birthday, he returned to his house with bruises on his face.
Deidre O’Brien, Liam’s mother, remembered, “He loved to eat deli sandwiches, Dunkin’ Donuts, and then it just stopped.”
Keith O’Brien, Liam’s father, said, “He just stopped eating, I didn’t see him eat.”
At one point, she finally got Liam to open up about how he was being treated by the kids at school. She said, “Two kids told him he sucked and shouldn’t have made the team. There were unnecessary pushes and kicks. He was told he was weird, he was fat, his freckles were weird, his eyebrows were weird. They used horrible language and called him nasty words. I asked him how often it happened. He looked at me crying and said, ‘Everyday Mom.'”
Liam did not tell his parents about the bullying for months. His mother said that he did not want to “make a big deal or for anyone to get in trouble.”
O’Brien reached out to the school for help but did not get far. The bullying against Liam continued. As Liam headed to the school bus one day, he was punched by another student. Liam’s mother reported the matter to the school, but was told, “no cameras were in that particular area of the building and no monitors saw anything.”
According to the superintendent, Dr. Alan Groveman, the school is taking steps to strengthen its ability to identify and crack down on bullying. He said, “I think the system worked as it was supposed to, but the situation failed. I don’t think the system failed; I think we have a problem identifying certain kinds of bullying and that’s something we’re working through.”
For example, Dr. Groveman continued, “Oftentimes, this type of bullying can be as subtle as a look, a giggle, or exclusion from social activities outside of the school for the victim. Bullying can occur on social media and is seen by peers but not available to school staff.”
Dr. Groveman commented that the school implements a zero-tolerance bullying practice. He explained, “I can tell you we do a thorough investigation but can only have a finding when someone comes forward to verify something actually happened. That’s not to say nothing actually happened; it’s just difficult when there is no verification.”
The school is going to add an online form to its website where rumors can be anonymously reported to staff members. The school has promised to respond to these reports within two days.
However, some parents disagreed with how the school handled Liam’s situation. One parent said, “I think he should have been shadowed, I think maybe there should have been a faculty meeting where the faculty was put on high alert.”
Another mother added that she had a serious discussion with her seventh-grader about bullying. She said, “If you witness something you either have to go help or get help, I said you really have two options because if bullies aren’t stopped, they’re going to keep doing what they’re doing.”
Liam ended up being hospitalized at the University Medical Center of Princeton at Plainsboro for five weeks to recover from his eating disorder.
Word of Liam’s bullying spread after Deidre O’Brien shared her thoughts on the matter on Facebook. Thousands of individuals have shown their support for Liam. In fact, students who live in Garden City wore orange shirts with “#WeStandWithLiam” printed on them.
Parker Waichman LLP is proud to have been chosen to represent the O’Brien family in its lawsuit against the school district. Nicholas Warywoda of the firm filed a Notice of Claim, which lays out the allegations against the school district.
The bullying lawsuit alleges that the school district did not offer “a safe and supportive environment free from intimidation, taunting, physical abuse, harassment, and bullying on school property and/or at school functions.”
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 the school.”
The lawsuit is seeking medical expenses and similar costs.
Warywoda added that the school district should have conducted better watch over its students. The school district was also aware that the family had gone to police during the previous school year over bullying concerns.
Warywoda explained, “The police were notified at the onset in the prior school year (2016-2017) when there was an incident that occurred (to Liam). There was really no cooperation then from the individuals who were doing the bullying. I don’t know how in-depth the investigation was, but the GCPD did, what they said, was an investigation.”
Now that the Notice of Claim has been filed, the school district is allowed to investigate the claims.
Warywoda has said that increasing the use of cameras is a good idea and is glad to see that local schools may be implementing such a practice. He said, “Cameras absolutely help-monitoring in and of itself helps. It is known that if you have monitoring in places where there is known bullying, like locker rooms and hallways…you can’t place cameras in locker rooms but in hallways, if there are cameras and monitors, people look for bullying, it prevents bullying.”
School districts and their staff members must keep children safe while they are attending classes. If these schools fail to properly monitor children, they should be held liable for subsequent harm that occurs.
School should be a place to learn, to socialize, and to explore new interests. School years should be looked back upon fondly, not remembered as being a terrible time in one’s life. When school personnel turns a blind eye to bullying, abuse, or other safety issues, they must face the grave consequences.
In extreme cases of bullying, some students have committed suicide, unable to bear the abuse and humiliation any longer. Though bullying had to stop when school was out in years past, now, through the use of social media, students may be bullied nonstop, unable to escape it no matter where they may be.
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At Parker Waichman LLP, we believe no child should be bullied. The experienced attorneys at Parker Waichman LLP have taken a stand against bullying. If your child has experienced harm due to bullying at school, contact us today for a free consultation. To schedule your free consultation, call 1-800-YOURLAWYER (1-800-968-7529).
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