Family alleges wrongful death, bullying in girl's suicide
FAIRFIELD TOWNSHIP, OH (FOX19) - The family of a Fairfield Middle School girl who committed suicide last year amid bullying allegations has sued the school district, board members, several school officials and several minor students.
In the stunning, 82-page wrongful death lawsuit, Emilie Olsen's parents allege Fairfield school officials repeatedly failed to address multiple bullying instances, including physical and online harassment.
School officials claim the seventh grader never reported any problems with bullying, according to a statement released shortly after Emilie's death. The lawsuit contradicts that stance, saying the bullying dates back to fifth grade.
Bullies targeted Emilie, an Asian American student, because of her "race, national origin, and gender, as well as her association with Caucasian students, and her perceived sexual orientation and practices," the suit reads.
In one instance cited in the lawsuit, a sixth grade student "followed Emilie into the girl's FIS restroom located near the library, and handed Emilie a razor and told her to "end her life.""
Ahead of her seventh grade year, Marc and Cindy Olsen requested their daughter be moved to a class away from her alleged bullies. Assistant Principal Mark Rice allegedly declined the request in a face-to-face meeting with Emilie and her father. Court documents describe the meeting:
"Emilie told Mr. Rice she was "frightened to return to school." Despite this, Mr. Rice refused to change Emilie's POD ... Instead, Mr. Rice suggested that Emilie "test the water," "try to make the most of it" for the first week of school, and "see how things went." Mr. Rice also stated that changing Emilie's POD was too inconvenient for the school's administrators."
The bullying continued, the lawsuit claims, and Mr. Olsen again reported his daughter's complaints to the school.
In September 2014, derogatory messages were posted about Emilie on a school bathroom wall, according to the lawsuit. The lawsuit details:
"The messages about Emilie included, but were not limited to, such things as "go die Emilie," "Emilie is a ho," "Emilie is a whore," and "Go kill yourself Emilie," and references to Emilie's race/national origin."
The graffiti was not removed from the wall until after Emilie's death in December, the suit alleges.
Emilie's parents are seeking damages and reform to the district's policies and procedures for responding to bullying and harassment.
Emilie's case was not an isolated incident, the suit reads. Other Fairfield students have suffered from bullying and discrimination from their peers. Parents have since called out school leaders about what they say is a growing problem.
Hundreds have showed up to school board meetings to express concern about bullying.
After FOX19 NOW broke news of the lawsuit, Fairfield City Schools released the following statement:
The Fairfield City School District is aware that a lawsuit has been filed against the District and a number of additional defendants by the Olsens. The District will be defending the litigation and will be providing appropriate responses in the course of the litigation. The District has no further comment at this time regarding this pending matter.
Attorneys for the family released the following statement on Monday:
"Rendigs was retained by the Olsen family to investigate the 2014 death of their 13 year old daughter, Emilie. After months of gathering and reviewing hundreds of documents, conducting numerous interviews, and reviewing applicable law, it is our conclusion that Emilie's suicide is a direct result of the sustained bullying, discrimination, and harassment that she suffered at Fairfield City Public Schools.
On December 11, 2015, Rendigs filed a 22-count Complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio against the Fairfield City School District and others on behalf of the Olsen family. We will vigorously pursue this case in order to vindicate our clients' rights and to affect change within the Fairfield school system.
Respecting the privacy of the family during this difficult time is of the utmost concern, and, as such, we and the Olsen family aim to advance this case in the courtroom, not the media. No further statements will be made at this time."
There are local and national resources for anyone struggling with bullies or suicidal thoughts:
Stopbullying.gov and the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255
The Trevor Project: 1-866-488-7386
Crisis Call Center: 1-800-273-8255 or text ANSWER to 839863
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