Student Bullied Into Taking Own Life After Using Racial Slur

( )- Last Thursday, US District Court Judge Mark A. Kearney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania dismissed a lawsuit brought by the parents of a Pennsylvania high school senior who committed suicide last year.

Gary and Genevieve Byrne of Philadelphia first filed suit in July against Springfield School District, the Springfield School Board, Superintendent Anthony Barber and Springfield High School Principal Joseph Hepp, alleging that they were in part responsible for their son’s suicide.

In June 2020, the Byrnes’ son, Ethan, was engaged in a group chat with fellow students discussing the COVID pandemic and Black Lives Matter, when Ethan, in responding to one of the other students who was defending BLM, used the N-word.

After being rebuked for his comment, Ethan apologized profusely and admitted he was wrong. But it didn’t matter. Ethan was subjected to constant bullying when he returned to in-person classes in October 2020. Principal Hepp even warned the boy to “watch out” because students and their parents were angry over his racial slur.

When the bullying persisted, Ethan went to his principal about it, and according to the suit, Principal Hepp did nothing to stop the bullying, nor did he notify Ethan’s parents of the harassment their son was facing.

And on October 19, 2020, the seventeen-year-old Ethan went out into the woods and shot himself in the head.

The defendants filed a motion to dismiss on September 20, arguing that the Byrnes’ claims were groundless and not supported by the law. And in his ruling, Kearney found for the defendants.

In dismissing the lawsuit, Judge Kearney determined that the law as written does not obligate educators to anticipate unexpected harm done by third parties. Kearney acknowledged that, like many other judges in suits related to bullying in schools, “we have great sympathy for this family.” However, Kearney explained, the law doesn’t allow claims alleging harm over a school’s failure to stop bullying, “absent the state actor’s affirmative conduct changing the status quo or conduct shocking the conscience.”

Kearney explained that the family’s suit is based on the idea that the school “should have known.” But the law as written does not “obligate” the school to “anticipate unforeseen harm.”