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Anorexic Girl Wins $55,000 Lawsuit Against Pittsburgh School District

Anorexic Girl Wins $55,000 Lawsuit Against Pittsburgh School District


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?

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296 comments

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3:49AM PDT on Apr 27, 2011

I should of did something and gotten something when I got sexual harrasment type notes in school. it took them 2 weeks to do anything and they just moved them far away.
hey teen boys, you can give notes to the weird chick saying "you can shove pennies into my anus i you want and I'll hollar all night"

my fault really. I'd cruze the caffertira looking for dropped tressure and change.
and i was in my own world and didn't know it was wrong to chase after the change they threw at me like some starving pidgon and bread crumbs.

10:43AM PST on Jan 11, 2011

I have 3 children in school north of Pittsburgh and am fighting with the school district here to get them to stop the bullying that is being done to my boys. They come home daily with bruises or hungry because someone stole their lunch or even crying because of the harsh things that were said! My middle son is one of the sweetest kids you will ever meet and he has been in a couple fights because of these bullies! I have had to go to the Principal on countless occasions to get this addressed and so far NOTHING!!!!!! There has been one teacher at the school who has taken my middle son under his wing and he now eats lunch with him in his classroom so he actually gets to eat lunch, but my youngest son in elementary school gets attacked by bullies because he is so much smaller than everyone else. He is even getting hit by girls! He will fight back but will never hit a girl. My oldest son acts out and has went from one of the smartest children I know to failing 8th grade! This is a 14 year old who could talk about quantum physics at the age of 12 and understand it! He now is withdrawn from school and wants nothing to do with it! The one time I went in to the middle school I said to the Principal if you don't do something this will turn into another Columbine! My son is being pushed around just like those boys were! Enough is enough! The parents of these kids need to take responsibility for their kids actions! Not just the teachers and prinicipals!

11:44AM PDT on Sep 3, 2010

Regarding the comment made on Aug. 30th by Cheyenne.
Yes, bullying has gone too far, but anorexia and bulimia are NOT someone's choice. It IS a slow form of suicide and many people have died from complications of it, even with professional counceling (Karen Carpenter is one who comes to mind).
If the person could just "snap out of it" or "just eat," then the cure would be pretty simple (it's not). The circumstances and causes for eating disorders are different for each individual (usually the person feels that they have no control and the one thing that they can control is eating). I'm not sure of the latest advances in the research for this disease, as I have not kept up on it. It has been years since I weighed 80 lbs.

Maybe the bullies should be sent to mandatory counceling; and NO, this should not be considered as punishment.
There should be a separate punishment, and I do not consider suspension a "punishment" (time off from school?). Maybe extra time after school to think about their actions, and read or study about the effects of bullying? Maybe no social contact while they are in school for a while (keeping them separated from their peers)?

Whatever is decided for punishment, it should be followed through by the parents at home. (Good luck with that part these days). Maybe the parents should have to go to counceling with the child!?

8:38PM PDT on Aug 30, 2010

Bullying should be stopped, but this is too far. Anorexia is someone's own decision. It's not the same as suicide - it's not death, & it's not something that happens once. People have to step up & be responsible. Of course she might need help & people may be mean to her, but it's her decision.

12:04AM PDT on Aug 24, 2010

There was an implication that non-religious or atheist parents aren't equally concerned with teaching their children honesty, integrity, compassion, the golden rule... and therefore have children that bully at a higher rate. Sadly, there seems to be no shortage of meanness or hate even among the religious. It DOES matter what sort of values parents teach their children, with or without religion.

Both the school and parents of bullies should be liable for doing nothing. Somehow, if threatened with pain where it hurts most - the wallet, suddenly things aren't taken so lightly. Awareness of potential liability can be quite motivating.

Things are different now. Some say they were bullied and the school did nothing and shouldn't be expected to do anything - that is wrong. When I was young, for years, on the way home, I was repeatedly called ethnic slurs by a particular boy who rode the same bus. I would ignore him and I never told anyone. Then one day, I walked home with a new friend and her little brother, and when they protested to his racial slurs, he punched me (fortunately in the arm.) Unbeknownst to me, my friend told her mother - who called the principal. She told me later and I was mortified thinking somehow I would get in trouble, or it would cause a big embarrassing fuss that would make things worse. I was anticipating the worst for days. I have no idea what the principal said or did, but it was effective, the boy never bothered me again.

11:05PM PDT on Aug 23, 2010

It seems patently obvious that Ms. Lynn Grefe knows very little about schoolbullying!
Hystorically, many children have had very bad experiences with bullying and quite a few have committed suicide and not only in the US.
The $55 000 will come in quite handy for the privateschool fees which has to be a lot more expensive than govt. schools!
The fact that the bullies were suspended for one day only, shows one the non-caring way schools deal with this. I hope the girl does well in privateschool and the horrible bullying will leave no long-term scars!

5:21PM PDT on Aug 21, 2010

It is true that schools need to take a stronger stance on bullying but I don't believe that getting money out of this situation is helping anyone, especially the girl in question. More action should have been taken against the bullies.

6:35PM PDT on Aug 19, 2010

Schools have to take firm action on bullying. In the Phoebe Prince case especially it's clear they did nothing even after hearing about the incidents from different witnesses.

9:06AM PDT on Aug 19, 2010

I too was bullied in school, but I did not expect the school to handle the thing unless they actually whitnessed the event. How about let's quit expecting to solve children's problems with socialization, bullying, and behavior and put the events where they belong on the backs of the children and parents. We keep expecting schools to do more and more on less and less, unfounded mandates I believe they are called. Children are born pschopathic and have to be treained to be social. That is ultimately the parents job. When they come to school they are supposed to have some social skills, but it is my experience as a principal that many do not. I punished children for bullying to the extent that I was allowed which it seems this school district did. Why was not the law enforcement agency brought in by this mother if the school could not handle the bullying. Probably for the same reason the school could do so little, you need more than hearsay to find guilt. Quit letting the parents of these spoiled and arogant brats off of the hook. They need to get their children under contral and act responsibly. My quess is that the parents did not have the deep pockets of the school district and so were let off of the hook again.

5:07PM PDT on Aug 18, 2010

Bullying is so much bigger than people realize. I'm 45 yrs old and I still remember the mean things that were said to me in school. These mean comments kids make are not small, insignificant events that can be forgotten or ignored. They affect lives and are not soon forgotten. Remember Columbine.

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