You were introduced to the Sullivan family of Baltimore, Maryland in an Examiner article on December 15, 2011. The Sullivans were suing Baltimore City Public Schools and two principals for failing to protect their special needs son from repeated bullying at two schools.
The judge presiding over the case threw out most of the family’s claims on December 21, 2011 and then handed the remaining charges over to a civil jury for deliberations. That jury issued a decision that stated city schools are not liable for alleged bullying of the Sullivan’s special needs child.
Jurors interviewed by various media outlets have stated that although the parents and other witnesses presented an emotional cases, the claims could not be verified through documentation or testimony presented.
Ed and Shawna Sullivan, the civil complaintants brought the suit to attempt to hold Baltimore City Public Schools accountable for the alleged bullying their child suffered and for what they believed was a system that did not respond to their pleas for help.
“I feel betrayed, honestly. I feel betrayed the school system can do these things and get away with it,” said Edmund Sullivan, outside the courthouse.
The Sullivan family stated in their complaint and testimony that their 10-year-old special needs child was severely bullied at two schools, Hazelwood Elementary/Middle School and Glenmount Elementary/Middle School. In their testimony, the Sullivans stated that their son was stabbed with a fork, even choked until he passed out, and that the principals knew about repeated attacks but did nothing.
City attorneys argued that the Sullivans had no documentation of the dates of the alleged bullying attacks. They stated that there were no police reports from the incidents and that they never followed Baltimore City Public School procedure of filing a written report of the bullying.
“Obviously I feel upset because I’m going to have to tell him the system failed him, that we failed as parents because we couldn’t protect him,” said Shawna Sullivan, also outside the courthouse.
Baltimore City Public School’s webiste specifically outlines the procedures for notifying school officials of bullying or harassment incidents.
Step 1. Contact your child’s school and verbally report bullying incident.
Step 2. Complete a Bullying & Harassment Form available at your child’s school.The form can also be obtained online and submitted to the school.
The school principal/designee investigates the incident within 2 school days.Resolution for incidents is given to parents/ guardians within 2 school days.
The school submits the complaint and investigation and intervention taken online in the City Schools Bullying and Harassment application within 2 school days.
Appropriate disciplinary action is taken.All suspensions for bullying should have an accompanied Bullying and Harassment report.
Step 3. If not satisfied with the investigation, contact the Office of Student Support through our Safety Hotline at 410-396-SAFE.
The Office of Student Support will work with the school to ensure that the incident is investigated within 2 school days.The Office of Student Support will ensure that resolution is sufficient.
This was the first time in Maryland that a school system or school personnel faced a civil trial in regards to the issue of bullying trial. Now retired Principal Charlotte Williams– head of Glenmount Elementary– and current Principal Sidney Twiggs– head of Hazlewood Elementary– faced charges of negligence. Both were cleared.
“Thank the Lord it’s all gone. That’s all I have to say,” said Sidney Twiggs, one of the defendents in this civil trial.
The Sullivans admit they never filed a written complaint. They had no picture or records of injuries. They say they thought their word was enough. The Sullivans informed various media outlets, that they had no idea a form even existed for reporting bullying and were never guided by either principal to complete said form. Now the Sullivans hope other families can learn from their loss and experiences.
Administrators for Baltimore City schools had previously declined to comment citing pending litigation. After the verdict was issued, Baltimore City Public Schools issued a written statement to say the case shows how “complex the interactions between students can be” and that they take allegations of misconduct seriously.