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California jury awards $1M to teen bullied in middle school

A California jury has awarded $1 million to a teen who was bullied at El Segundo Middle School after the school district failed to protect her. Photo courtesy of elsegundomiddleschool.org.
A California jury has awarded $1 million to a teen who was bullied at El Segundo Middle School after the school district failed to protect her. Photo courtesy of elsegundomiddleschool.org.

Aug. 31 (UPI) -- A California jury has awarded $1 million in damages to a teen who was bullied in middle school after her Los Angeles school district failed to protect her.

A Los Angeles County Superior Court jury ruled on Wednesday that El Segundo Unified School District's negligence harmed Eleri Irons, who was 13 when the bullying began in November 2017, according to court records.

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Irons, who is now 18, was awarded $700,000 in damages for past pain and suffering, and $300,000 for any future emotional trauma she may suffer, according to her attorney Christa Ramey.

The original lawsuit, filed in 2019, accused the district of failing to protect Irons while she attended El Segundo Middle School where she was "bullied, tormented and verbally assaulted" by three students, including one who started a petition called "Let's Kill Eleri Irons."

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The bullying "included verbal harassment, spreading nasty rumors and text messaging mean comments directly" to her, the suit said.

The complaint also accused teachers of failing to notify Irons' parents after they discovered the petition.

"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."

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Ramey said the prolonged bullying led Irons to cut herself and suffer PTSD.

"Every teacher, counselor and administrator who touched this case failed not only my client, but also the aggressors and every other student at the school," Ramey said in a statement. "Bullying is to be taken seriously, and the administrators are culpable when they don't stop it."

The El Segundo Unified School District issued a statement saying it respects the court ruling and vowed to make the well-being of its students a top priority with the addition of two student safety positions, a security assessment for all schools and a Gaggle alert system to flag any potential bullying online.

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"As we move forward, we are committed to self-improvement and doing everything we can to prevent bullying in our schools," the district said.

Ramey said this case is not just about Irons.

"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," Ramey said. "And schools need to give more than just lip service to anti-bullying policies, they actually need to implement them."

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