The parents of an 11-year-old Ohio girl who killed herself allege in a federal lawsuit against her school district that she was bullied for years because of her appearance and that school officials didn’t do enough to address it.
Bethany Thompson survived brain cancer as a toddler but surgery to remove the tumor damaged nerves in her face, giving her what her parents affectionately called a “crooked smile.” Kids at school saw it differently, however, and subjected Bethany to severe and pervasive verbal and physical harassment, including constant name-calling and pushing and shoving in hallways, classrooms, at recess and on the bus.
According to police reports, about one month before her death, Bethany told a friend she was “done with bullies” and was going to kill herself. The friend told her own father, who then promptly notified the school’s principal. According to the lawsuit, the principal said he was aware of and monitoring the bullying and that he would notify Bethany’s parents about her suicide threat, but he never did.
The lawsuit names the Triad Local School District in North Lewisburg, Ohio, and several of its employees, including former Triad Middle School Principal Duane Caudill.
The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages and changes in how the district trains employees and students about issues such as bullying and discrimination.
Attorney Natasha Wells-Niklas of Kisling, Nestico & Redick, who grew up in the same rural community where Bethany did and attended the same schools, stated that another child in the same district committed suicide a few years prior to Bethany but that no real changes were put into effect.
“We try to help families accomplish something good out of something very, very bad that has happened to them,” said Wells-Niklas. “In this case, Bethany’s parents have lost their daughter but they hope that through this tragedy they can at least bring about change that will prevent this from happening to another child.”