The parents of 12-year old Mallory Grossman, who committed suicide in June 2017, are filing a lawsuit against New Jersey’s Rockaway Township, its school district and educational administrators.
“One year ago, on June 14, sixth-grader Mallory Grossman, who attended Copeland Middle School in Rockaway [died by suicide] and she did so after being relentlessly bullied by four of her classmates,” claims attorney Bruce Nagel, representing parents Dianne and Seth.
Nagel accuses the local district of failing “terribly” to keep the Grossmans’ daughter safe.
USA Today says the suit lists acts of bullying undertaken by the group, “acting individually and together,” throughout the 2016-2017 school year.
Instances of harassment included one student taking a picture of Mallory walking alone and captioning it, “You have no friends.” Another day, the same student sent her a text message asking when she planned to kill herself.
That question, reports USA Today, was purportedly asked in front of a group of students.
On top of cyber-bullying, Grossman was berated in person, too. The suit says Mallory was called “fat,” “jiggly” and insulted for having “frizzy” hair. The “ongoing and systematic bullying” became so severe that the 12-year old began eating her lunches in the school’s guidance office.
Mallory’s mother, Dianne Grossman, accuses the district of doing little to mitigate the abuse. In an interview, she recounted how a complaint was dealt with administrators asking the sixth-grader and her bullies to “hug each other.”
The school—rather than punishing responsible parties—told Mallory to eat lunch in the guidance office rather than face harassment in the cafeteria.
“There is this attack on the victim to ‘suck it up,’” said Dianne Grossman. “I know they weren’t taking it seriously.”
Nagel says the district hadn’t reached out to him for response, but the school’s office did issue an independent rebuttal of the Grossmans’ claims.
“The allegation that the Rockaway Township School District ignored the Grossman family and failed to address bullying in general, is categorically false,” said administrators.
In a piece detailing the suit, the Washington Post spoke to Perry Zirkel, professor emeritus at Lehigh University. Zirkel has studied litigation against schools after students’ suicide deaths. He says litigation counts are rising, but courts rarely rule in favor of families.
“I do see an increasing number of liability cases,” he said, “in the wake of a tragic suicide, the family suing the school district, saying you could have done more and if you had done so my child would not have committed suicide.”
Diane Grossman says her daughter gave little indication of serious trouble—sometimes she’d allude to bad days, but her mother suspects that 12-year old Mallory didn’t want to come across as a “tattletale.” Only a day before her suicide did the girl finally have a “breakdown,” telling her mother she couldn’t handle the constant bullying.
“She couldn’t take it anymore,” said Ms. Grossman. “She had held it in for so long.”