Bullied Girl Commits Suicide, Family Gets $225,000 Settlement
On January 14, 2010, the family of 15-year-old Phoebe Prince had their lives shattered forever. That’s because Prince, a freshman at Massachusetts’ South Hadley High School, committed suicide after being bullied by her classmates. Since moving to the U.S. from Ireland in 2009, Prince was verbally abused – in person and on Facebook – and threatened with physical abuse. On the last day of her life, some of her tormentors drove by in a car, called her an Irish slut and suggested she kill herself – which is exactly what she did.
Nearly two years later, the tragic story is making headlines once again. That’s because Prince’s family has received a $225,000 settlement from the town of South Hadley – a figure made public just this week after Slate magazine reporter Emily Bazelon successfully sued to gain access to the records.
Prince’s parents, Anne O’Brien and Jeremy Prince, had accused the school district of ignoring their daughter’s suffering and failing to protect her discrimination, according to reports (they claimed the district created an “intimidating, hostile, and sexually offensive educational environment”). They withdrew the complaint after settling with the school district in November 2010.
Meanwhile, five students were charged with felony and misdemeanor violations in connection with Prince’s suicide. They appeared in court, pleaded guilty to criminal harassment and were sentenced to probation and community service.
It all raises the important question of who, exactly, should be held accountable for bullying? Obviously the bullies’ parents should play a role – that goes without saying. But what’s the role of school administrators? How accountable should they be? And when should a parent go to the police?
In Massachusetts, where Prince lived, an anti-bullying curriculum is mandatory – by law – for every student in grades K-12. It also requires training for every adult in the school – that includes not just teachers but also bus drivers, coaches and so on – on how to recognize bullying and what to do about it (all cases must be reported and schools are obligated to investigate).
Unfortunately, it was too late for Prince – and no amount of money is going to bring her back. But the news these days is filled with horrible stories like hers, and it breaks my heart to think of how many other teens are suffering. What really stuck out to me when reading about Prince’s death is the fact that of the five students charged, only one apologized to Prince’s family or showed any type of remorse. That, to me, is a very telling and grim reality.