Hallsville school administrators ignored complaints for two years about bullying and harassment of a 13-year-old student who eventually took her own life, the girl’s mother charges in a recently-filed wrongful-death lawsuit.
Elizabeth Overstreet’s daughter, Rylie Wagner, died in April 2017. Overstreet is now seeking damages from the Hallsville School District, superintendent John Downs, former middle school principal Clint Hague and assistant principal Ty Sides, alleging culture in the school where bullying was considered acceptable behavior.
“The few school years prior to Rylie’s death, Rylie, as well as other similarly situated students, experienced bullying at Hallsville R-IV School District that was generally complained of but ignored, and often met with the consequences of the victim of bullying being subjected to punishment and further bullying,” the petition states. “Well before Rylie took her own life due to bullying, the Hallsville R-IV School District had a reputation that it was somewhere she could expect to be bullied because it was just the way it was.”
Overstreet’s attorney, Charles Gentry of Jefferson City, did not immediately return a call seeking comment.
Attorney for the school district Amy Clendennen declined to comment on the litigation. Spokeswoman Kari Yeagy on Monday said the district could not comment on the lawsuit but that school officials take all allegations of bullying seriously.
“As professional educators, we strive to always put students’ safety and well-being first, and the district is committed to maintaining a learning and working environment free of any form of bullying or intimidation,” Yeagy said. “Within our district, we take all allegations of bullying seriously, and complete a full investigation into every report of such instances, in accordance with board policies and state law.”
Rylie was the victim of ongoing abuse at the Hallsville Middle School because of her sexual orientation, clothes and other characteristics, according to the petition. Students taunted Rylie, pranked her, spread rumors and degraded her for two school years before she took her life.
“Rylie was subjected to severe, pervasive, and persistent harassment, in the form of bullying that was so objectively offensive it rendered her educational environment abusive and hostile, which deprived Rylie of her right to equally access the educational opportunities and/or benefits provided by public school,” the petition states.
Overstreet and parents of other bullied students complained but school administrators did not take any action, according to the petition. It states school officials often dismissed complaints as “kids being kids” and denied bullying was a problem.
On one occasion, the petition charges Rylie was assaulted by the child of a teacher at the school and the district ignored the complaint.
Even on occasions of severe bullying that rose to potential criminal behavior, the district did not file reports as required by state law, the petition states.
The Boone County Sheriff’s Department investigated following Rylie’s death.
“After a thorough and extensive investigation of this case there was no evidence of criminal activity.” sheriff’s spokesman Tom O’Sullivan said.
The suit, which contains a number of allegations of constitutional violations, was filed in Boone County Circuit Court in July and transferred on Friday to federal court in Jefferson City, with Judge Willie J. Epps, Jr. presiding. A trial date has not been set.