Posted on March 26, 2014 at 6:33 PM
Thursday, Mar 27 at 5:06 AM
Ashley Rodrigue / Eyewitness News
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter: @ashleyrwwl
HAMMOND, La. -- Parents of a 13-year-old girl have filed a lawsuit against a Catholic school saying the administrators failed to protect their daughter from bullying, which is being investigated by police.
The family also claims in the lawsuit, seen here
, that the school expelled the girl and her brother, after the allegations were aired.
The discovery of the girl’s letter to herself, describing the alleged abuse at school and through texts, as well as cutting herself because of it, gave her parents the shock of their lives in December.
"There's nothing that prepares you to read those words,” said mother Jeanine Holmes, “It was a kick in the gut."
The family says they contacted the school, Holy Ghost in Hammond, and put the girl in therapy. Her mother said the school was initially responsive to the issue, but over time, it remained unresolved, then worsened, with the girl being hospitalized as suicidal. The family then started spreading their dissatisfaction with the school, including a protest in front of the campus by an older sibling in February. Holmes said that was followed by her children being punished.
She said, “The assistant principal, not even in a private manner, approached me with papers that I had to formally resign my children or they would be expelled."
The Diocese of Baton Rouge initially sent us the letter given to parents at the school about the incident, as a response. It says, “Good afternoon, parents. First, let us express our regret that many of you have been distracted while in the carpool line this week. Please understand that the school is required to hold confidential information regarding students, so public comment cannot be made in response to anything that may be said by those who do not serve in such a professional capacity. Second, please be assured that the school has followed proper protocol and policies, working diligently to address the situation in a reflective and appropriate way. We cannot specifically comment, but want you to know that we truly appreciate your trust in us, and are thankful for your patience, prayers, and continued support."
The Holmes’ filed the action Wednesday against the alleged bullies for, "continual, severe and traumatic bullying." The school and diocese are also included for, "failing to take proper corrective actions" regarding the claims, among other things.
Late on Wednesday afternoon, following the filing of the lawsuit, a spokeswoman said in an additional statement, “We have not been served with a lawsuit regarding a bullying matter. The Federal Education Privacy Act does not allow us to comment on a student's discipline or academics. We may confirm that a family did make a complaint against two students for acts of bullying, that the administration took those complaints seriously, followed up and disciplined the students. These actions were taken in accordance with handbook and policy of the school and diocese. The discipline was serious, was more than detentions but less than expulsion and was designed to teach them that bullying is not acceptable at Holy Ghost or anywhere else.”
It continues, “The complaining family was not satisfied with the punishment and demanded that the two boys be expelled. The father of this family became so threatening toward the principal, the pastor and the school itself that a restraining order from the court had to be obtained against the father prohibiting him from threatening the administration and the school. While we do not agree with the actions and the accusations of the family, we are praying for them, and sincerely hope that they are happy at the new school they have chosen for their children.” The diocese finished, “The family also reported this to the civil authorities. We will cooperate with the civil authorities in whatever way they request as long as it does not violate the federal law regarding privacy in education. To our knowledge, no arrests have been made.”
The Holmes' say, “The diocese mentions the temporary restraining order (TRO) as an attempt to distract from the real issues.” They say they're fighting because their daughter believes it will make a difference for others.
"I don't know what it's going to take but no other child should have to suffer and no other child should have to die," said Holmes.
The family says the girl has improved, but remains in therapy and is being home-schooled with her sibling.