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Baltimore City School Board named in bullying suit

Every property owner has an obligation to ensure their facilities are safe for visitors. For many of us that may translate into a notion that if I'm at a store, I should be able to meander the aisles without danger. That's true. But there is a broader concept of premises liability that can apply, as is being shown in a trial now under way in Baltimore.

In this case, the parents of two siblings are suing the school system alleging that school officials have been grossly negligent by failing to maintain a safe environment against bullying. In one instance, the bullying was against a special-needs boy. The parents say school officials failed to maintain a safe educational environment for him.

According to the suit before a Baltimore jury, the parents claim that their son and his older sister were hounded by bullies at Hazelwood and Glenmount elementary schools during a two-year period. They say it continued despite the filing of complaints.

The parents are seeking $1.3 million in damages from the school system and the principals of the two schools. The mother and father say that between 2008 and 2010, bullying was so severe that their son had to be hospitalized for mental and physical abuse. To protect their children, they incurred costs to home school them and eventually enrolled one of them in private school.

The alleged abuse included an instance when the boy was choked to unconsciousness when he was in first grade and another when he was beaten up in the second grade. The older daughter is said to have been the target of verbal and physical abuse when she was in fifth grade. She suffered thefts and destruction of her personal property. Her parents say she got targeted because she was defending her brain-injured brother.

A lawyer for the school board indicated in his opening statement that he would show that the worst of the supposed attacks never happened.

As a side note, the Baltimore City school system has seen a 150 percent increase in reported cases of bullying since April 2010. Officials attribute that to elevated awareness about bullying, rather than an actual increase in bullying activity.

Source: The Baltimore Sun, "Bullying suit against city schools goes to trial," Erica L. Green, Dec. 15, 2011

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