AUSTIN (KXAN) — The mother of an Austin Independent School District student has filed a lawsuit against the district, claiming school officials failed to protect her daughter from bullying by other students.
According to the lawsuit, the mother of the Martin Middle School student says her daughter was repeatedly harassed and discriminated against based on her race and the fact that she was an immigrant.
“Austin ISD has not been served. If a student believes that they have experienced prohibited behavior, they should immediately report the alleged act to a school principal or assistant principal, school district’s counselor, nurse, or Title IX coordinator for students at 414-9813 or 414-3974. Austin ISD encourages students, parents, and employees to work together to prevent acts of harassment of any kind by fostering a climate of mutual respect for others.” – Eddie Villa, AISD Communications Specialist
The mother says her daughter was targeted by a group of girls who would call her racial slurs, tell her to “go back to where she came from,” and also say that she smelled. The lawsuit also says the girls once sprayed perfume in her face.
The lawsuit states that these incidents were repeatedly reported to school officials — who, the mother says, did “nothing” to properly help her daughter or reprimand the group of girls. According to the mother’s attorneys, the inaction by the school violated its own anti-discrimination and harassment policies.
Austin ISD has a list of its policies related to harassment and bullying on its website. One policy says harassment based on — among other things — race, national origin or immigration status that is severe and persistent and creates a hostile educational environment is not allowed. AISD also has a “Respect for All” initiative and says on its website it “is dedicated to providing a positive school climate and believes that all students have the right to learn in an environment free of harassment, bullying and violence.”
The mother says that AISD’s policies outline what the school should have done, which includes intervening on behalf of her daughter to make sure she got counseling and to investigate the incident and update the student’s parents of how the investigation was going.
The mother says the school told her that these incidents did not fall within its definitions of “bullying” or “harassment.”
Meanwhile, the harassment of the student escalated, the lawsuit stated, culminating in a physical altercation between the student and the other girls. The mother says her daughter was treated as the bully in the fight and was suspended and sent to alternative school as punishment.
The lawsuit alleges that the vice principal said to her daughter “Who’s the bully now?”
The mother says that after this, her daughter started displaying suicidal ideation and an attempt, in addition to other self-harming behaviors, which included hospitalization and mental health evaluations. The lawsuit states that the psychiatric professionals who attended to her daughter determined that her depression and low-self esteem were due to the ongoing bullying and that accommodations for the girl should be given by the school.
The lawsuit states the mother requested to have her daughter change schools and that either the school or the district denied this request until the Austin chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People sent a letter to the school.
The lawsuit lists several ways in which the mother believes AISD failed her daughter, including:
- failure to provide counseling
- failure to provide someone to monitor her at school
- failure to address the impact of the harassment
- failure to survey the school about harassment and bullying
- failure to meet with the student and/or any of the other students she had problems with
- failure to properly train staff to deal with these issues
The mother’s attorneys say that the harassment her daughter faced not only violates school policies, but violates both the U.S. and Texas constitutions.
The mother is suing for damages and legal fees and she and her attorneys are demanding a trial by jury.
KXAN will update this story with AISD’s response when it provides one.