Pittsburgh schools sued in anorexia case

Lawsuit claims that harassment over weight led to problem

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The mother of a former city schools student said in a federal lawsuit that administrators knew her daughter was being harassed over her weight, but their lack of action led to the girl developing anorexia and having to withdraw from school and seek mental health treatment.

The suit, which names Pittsburgh Public Schools, Frick Middle School and Principal Wayne Walters as defendants, alleges Title IX violations in that the girl has a right to be free from a hostile educational environment.

Ira Weiss, the school solicitor, said he couldn't comment on the lawsuit but that the district would vigorously defend it.

According to the complaint, which does not give the full name of either the student or her mother, the harassment began while the girl was in sixth grade during the 2006-07 school year.

Three boys in the girl's school harassed her and called her names on a daily basis, the lawsuit said.

"The offensive comments explicitly and implicitly conveyed the message that B.G. was unattractive and overweight," attorney Edward A. Olds wrote. "The comments were sexual in nature or conveyed sexual stereotyping."

In March 2007, the complaint continues, the boys made the girl -- a straight-A student in the magnet program -- cry during class. The teacher sent the girl to the school guidance counselor, Darlene Epps.

"Epps did nothing to stop the harassment and did not notify [the girl's mother] of the ongoing harassment," Mr. Olds wrote. "In fact, Epps made the comment to the effect that boys will be boys and they must like B.G. if they are teasing her."

While the visit to the guidance counselor caused a lull in the harassment, the lawsuit said, it began again a short time later.

After the summer, when the girl returned to school in seventh grade, two more boys joined in the harassment, the lawsuit said.

While other students tried to shame the boys to stop the harassment, the lawsuit said, no faculty members or school administrators intervened.

"The boys would make comments about B.G.'s lunch, and would call her fat while she was trying to eat," the lawsuit said. "This constant harassment eventually would affect B.G.'s health. B.G. began to throw her lunch away rather than eat in front of the boys and endure their constant teasing and comments about her weight."

In December 2007, during a field trip to a bowling alley, the boys harassed the girl, and replaced her name on the scoring screen with a degrading one.

The chaperones did nothing, the lawsuit said.

Shortly after that, the girl finally told her mother what was happening, Mr. Olds said.

"By this time, B.G. had developed anorexia nervosa as a result of almost two years of continued harassment," he wrote.

In January 2008, the girl's mother went to school officials and learned they knew about the harassment, according to the lawsuit

A school investigation led to a one-day suspension for the boys.

But in February of that year, the girl had to be admitted to Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic to be treated for anorexia because her weight had dropped dangerously low, the lawsuit said.

According to the complaint, the girl's mother attempted to get her school records so that she could begin home-schooling. Instead, it goes on, she was met with hostility from the administration, Mr. Olds wrote.

The mother accuses Dr. Walters of retaliating against her by filing a false criminal charge against her for disorderly conduct. That charge was later dismissed.

The lawsuit includes allegations that the district has inadequate policies regarding sexual harassment and that teachers and administrators were deliberately indifferent to the abuse happening to the girl.

She now attends private school.

Paula Reed Ward can be reached at pward@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2620.


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