Pittsburgh Public Schools settle suit over girl's anorexia, taunting

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A former student at Frick Middle School who claimed that teasing from fellow students about her weight -- and the administration's failure to halt the abuse -- led her to develop anorexia has agreed to settle her federal lawsuit.

Filed by the girl, identified as "B.G." and her mother, "Mary V." in U.S. District Court last August citing a hostile school environment, the suit will settle for $55,000, as well as the cost of mediation.

The Pittsburgh Public Schools board approved the settlement in May. However, according to the plaintiffs' lawyer, he has been unable to get in touch with his client since then.

"Mary V. has ceased communications with her counsel. She has failed to return phone calls or respond to correspondence," wrote Edward G. Olds in a motion to the court last week.

The only issue left open at the time of the mediation, Mr. Olds said, was the division of the settlement proceeds between the mother and daughter.

U.S. District Judge Donetta W. Ambrose has scheduled a hearing on the settlement for today.

Schools Solicitor Ira Weiss said he is hoping that Judge Ambrose will issue an order enforcing the settlement action.

"It is not uncommon for parties to seek court intervention to enforce a settlement," Mr. Weiss said.

At the time of mediation, he added, all of the parties were present and signed a summary of what they expected the settlement to be.

"There can be no question this was participated in and approved by the plaintiffs," Mr. Weiss said.

According to the lawsuit, harassment of the girl, who was in sixth grade at the time, began in the 2006-07 school year.

As part of the claim, the girl's mother said that school administrators knew that her daughter was being harassed but failed to take action or inform her of what was happening.

According to the complaint, the girl was harassed on a daily basis by three boys who called her names and told her she was unattractive and overweight.

Then, in March 2007, the boys made the girl cry during class. She was sent to a guidance counselor who made the comment "to the effect that boys will be boys and they must like B.G. if they are teasing her."

During the next school year, the complaint said, two more boys joined in the harassment.

Even though other students tried to intervene to help the girl, the lawsuit went on, no faculty or administrative staff did.

The harassment often occurred at lunch and would cause the girl to throw away her food instead of eating it in front of the boys.

It wasn't until after a December 2007 field trip that the girl finally told her mother what was going on.

When her mother went to school officials, she found out they knew what had been happening, the lawsuit said.

There was ultimately an investigation that led to a one-day suspension for the boys.

The girl, however, ended up being admitted to Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic that February to be treated for anorexia. She has since transferred to a private school.

The suit named as defendants Pittsburgh Public Schools, Frick Middle School and Principal Wayne Walters.

Paula Reed Ward: pward@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2620.


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