A U.S. district judge in Rome, Georgia, has dismissed a case alleging the Murray County school system was responsible for the suicide of high school student Tyler Long. Judge Harold Murphy made the decision even though he acknowledged that the bullying “was sufficiently severe and pervasive that it altered the condition of his education and created an abusive educational environment.” The judge also agreed that there was evidence that the bullying led directly to the child’s suicide and that school officials knew about the bullying when it was occurring.
The boy’s parents, David and Tina Long, had sought to hold the school responsible for not protecting him from the bullying. Long, who struggled with autism spectrum disorder and other psychological issues, was targeted by his bullies because of his disability, a claim the judge also agreed with.
Long’s suicide occurred in October of 2009, and his parents have sought to hold the school district, along with Long’s principal, Gina Linder, responsible for doing little to protect their son. Although Murphy agreed with the Long’s version of the story, he found that the school system had no custodial relationship with the bullied child and that it had no duty to protect him from his bullies.
The principal and the school system are “extremely pleased with the result,” said Martha Pearson, who represented them in the suit. The Longs, however, vowed to keep fighting. Their case has garnered a great deal of attention and sympathy from the public. The Longs had argued that the school system and Linder ignored their pleas to step in and take action against the bullies after their son was repeatedly bullied both physically and verbally in front of multiple witnesses.
“It’s a sad day in our society when we send our kids to a public school, and then a school district can be said not to be liable for the safety of a kid,” said David Long. “… Where do parents go? Here you’ve got institutions that taxpayers pay money for and that they have to send their kids to school, but yet they’re not accountable for their actions and inactions?”
Judge Murphy ruled that the defendant’s behavior does not rise to the level of deliberate indifference, which he said was necessary before the case could be heard by a jury. The Longs’ attorney, W. Winston Briggs, disagrees and says that he believes the judge is reading the law too narrowly.
“I just think he’s either implied too exacting of a standard, or you just simply can’t sue a school for this, ever,” said Briggs, who vowed to appeal the ruling to the 11th Circuit Court.