Pittsburgh Public Schools will pay $55,000 to settle what is believed to be the first-of-its-kind lawsuit brought by a mother who claims her daughter was bullied into anorexia.
Mary V. filed the lawsuit last August on behalf of her child, who is now 15, alleging that the school district failed to stop the bullying that caused her daughter’s anorexia. According to the mother, three boys began calling the girl, known by her initials B.G., “fat” in sixth grade, and two more boys joined in the daily bullying in the following year.
Mother accuses school district of negligence
B.G.’s mother says a guidance counselor did nothing when told about the bullying, and that school officials began harassing her when she tried to homeschool B.G. She also states that the boys’ actions triggered the anorexia that led to her child entering an inpatient anorexia program in February, 2008, at a “dangerously low” weight.
A just decision?
Was this a fair decision? According to mom, the settlement is especially unfair because the taunting students received just one day’s suspension, and remain eligible for scholarships offered only to city school graduates. (B.G. has since transferred to a private school.)
Lynn Grefe, CEO of the National Eating Disorders Assocation, says it’s too simplistic to say bullying can lead to an eating disorder. As she puts it, “With eating disorders, we say you’re born with a gun and life pulls the trigger.” She adds that science shows that genetics form the biggest risk factor for eating disorders, even though a multitude of factors in the environment can play a role in triggering the disorder.
The Phoebe Prince case
Fair or not, if this decision serves again to highlight the devastating effects of bullying on the lives of young people, then I applaud the decision. Clearly, the increase in media attention on bullying in the wake of the Phoebe Prince case, described by Care2 blogger Ximena Ramirez, had some kind of effect on this settlement. If it is raising awareness and making schools take some responsibility for past, present, and future incidents then this is a crucially important decision.
Two weeks ago, I noted that Chicago Public Schools have made a huge step forward in this area by taking the lead in disciplining their students who are cyberbullies, and for making cyberbullying a crime. In this area, they are to be applauded.
Schools must take a stronger stand
As with the Phoebe Prince case, staff at the Pittsburgh school in question were aware of the harassment, but nobody, not teachers, school officials, or guidance counselors, intervened on B.G.’s behalf. Peer harassment violates Title IX, the federal statute prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sex in federally funded schools.
The spotlight is finally shining on this crucial issue: schools need to be more vigilant in implementing their anti-bullying policies. With just one more mean word from a peer, kids who are already vulnerable can be pushed over the edge to an eating disorder or even suicide. There have been plenty of tragic examples in the past year, but will all schools finally take notice?
Creative Commons - Christopher Isherwood