Jury awards California teen $1 million whose school district failed to protect her from bullies

A jury awarded $1 million in damages last week to a teenager after determining a California school district failed to protect her from bullies while in middle school.

Eleri Irons, who is now 18, attended El Segundo Middle School when three classmates bullied her between November 2017 and June 2018, according to a lawsuit filed against the El Segundo Unified School District in April 2019.

The bullying “included verbal harassment, spreading nasty rumors and text messaging mean comments directly” to her, the suit said. The bullying occurred on school grounds and on field trips, according to the lawsuit, which noted the trio started a “Let’s Kill Eleri Irons” petition in June 2018.

“When this petition was discovered by Teachers, they failed to notify the parents of Claimant in any manner,” the suit said. “The gross negligence by School, Teachers, Principal, and District resulted in significant physical and psychological trauma to Claimant.”

Irons’ attorney, Christa Ramey, said the prolonged bullying against her client, led her to cut herself and she was diagnosed with PTSD.

“What the jury told us … is that they believed her. That was ultimately what she needed is to have someone actually listen to her and believe her because that didn’t happen to her in the eighth grade,” Ramey said. “This is not just about her. When other kids speak up in the future, schools will listen. I think that’s what the verdict says. These cases with emotional harm to a child are lifelong and lasting and they are serious. And schools need to give more than just lip service to anti-bullying policies, they actually need to implement them.”

The El Segundo Unified School District said in a statement it respects the court ruling and acknowledges the findings of the lawsuit. It also said the safety and well-being of students is the district’s top priority.

“As we move forward, we are committed to self-improvement and doing everything we can to prevent bullying in our schools,” the statement said. “We have taken a number of actions to make this happen. These include adding two Student Safety Assistant positions at Center Street and Richmond Street elementary schools, the adoption of a tailored security assessment for all schools, and the implementation of a comprehensive school district safety plan.”

The district added: “Additionally, we have implemented a series of recommendations from a third-party comprehensive safety assessment that was conducted in 2018. These include behavioral threat assessment protocol training for staff, the use of We Tip website to anonymously report concerns related to bullying, physical safety enhancements at our middle and high schools, and two new safety staff members. As an extra layer of protection, our Gaggle alert system flags any potential bullying occurring online.”

A verdict form filed Thursday in Los Angeles County Superior Court said the district was negligent, which was a “substantial factor” in causing harm to Irons. The verdict form also said the district was negligent in training and supervision of its employees, another substantial factor in harming Irons.

The damages cover $700,000 for past pain and suffering and $300,000 for any future emotional trauma Irons may suffer, Ramey said.

Antonio Planas

Antonio Planas is a breaking news reporter for NBC News Digital. 

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