An 8-Year-Old Boy Killed Himself After His School Covered Up The Bullying He Faced, A Lawsuit Says
When Cornelia Reynolds found her 8-year-old son, Gabriel Taye, had killed himself after coming home from school on Jan. 26, 2017, she started CPR and called 911. Paramedics attempted to revive the boy, but he had no pulse.
As they took her child away, Reynolds screamed through her tears, “Why Gabe? Why baby? Why did you do it?”
That question is at the crux of a lawsuit filed by Gabriel’s parents against Cincinnati Public Schools and Carson Elementary School officials, the family’s attorney, Jennifer Branch, said during a court hearing Wednesday. The family has accused school officials of covering up the violence and bullying that Gabriel faced on multiple occasions — actions his family said make the school responsible for the boy's death.
“These parents had no idea what was going on at Carson Elementary School,” Branch told a panel of judges in the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals. They had “no idea how dangerous his third-grade school was,” she said.
Gabriel loved to dress up for school and wear neckties. The 8-year-old loved to sing and dance, fish with his mother, and play games with his father. He was a smart boy who earned good grades, his parents said.
They didn't know that two days before his death, Gabriel had been attacked by a student in the boys bathroom and that he had lain unconscious on the floor for seven minutes while other students walked by, mocking and kicking him, according to Branch and surveillance video of the incident.
The school did not call 911 and waited for more than an hour to call Reynolds, only to tell her that Gabriel had “fainted” and that his “vitals were fine,” the lawsuit alleged. School officials have said they responded appropriately to incidents and could not have known that Gabriel would go on to harm himself.
Video of Assault
After what happened in the bathroom, Gabriel told his mother that all he could remember was that he fell and hurt his stomach. She took him to the hospital after he vomited and kept him home the next day.
But on Jan. 26, 2017, she sent him back to school, a “decision she would never had made if she had only known about the attack” in the unsupervised boys' bathroom, the lawsuit said.
When Gabriel went to the boys' bathroom that day, two students stole his water bottle and tried to flush it down the toilet. He reported the incident to a teacher, who was not aware of the previous assault on Gabriel and “did not recognize the seriousness of this incident,” the lawsuit said.
That evening, Gabriel returned home from school and killed himself.
School officials knew that Carson was a “violent school” and that Gabriel was a victim of bullying and other “aggressive behavior” since he was a 5-year-old in first grade, Branch told the judges. They knew that he was a victim of "aggressive behavior" in at least six incidents during the third grade, but they only notified his mother about three, the lawsuit alleged.
“They also know that bullying can lead to suicide,” Branch said, citing the school’s bullying policy that notes suicide is a known risk of bullying.
School officials “covered up” the bullying and aggressive behavior that students, including Gabriel, experienced at Carson Elementary School, the lawsuit said. They hid information from Gabriel’s parents about the extent of the bullying he received as well as the bathroom attack recorded on camera, according to the lawsuit.
“Had Gabe’s parents known the dangers Gabe faced at Carson, they would not have continued to send him to school there,” the lawsuit said.
Gabriel with his mother.
The school has argued that Gabriel did not suffer from a “pervasive pattern” of bullying because none of the six alleged incidents he was involved in “shared any pattern” or showed “repeated run-ins with the same student.” The school also argued that its officials were “attentive and responsive” to Gabriel and punished students who allegedly bullied him.
The 6th Circuit Court judges will now decide whether to affirm a trial court’s refusal to dismiss the wrongful death lawsuit that Gabriel’s parents filed against the school district in 2017.
Aaron Herzig, an attorney for the school’s administrators, argued Wednesday that the school officials did not act recklessly and that they should be immune from liability in Gabriel’s death.
Ruthenia Jackson, Carson’s principal, and Jeffrey McKenzie, the assistant principal, “acted just as you would want school administrators to act,” Herzig said.
Holding them liable for a student killing themself would open “whole new vistas of liability for schools in Ohio and throughout the circuit,” he said.